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Keeping faith in my ability vital to Championship joy, insists Donal O'Hare

 

By Declan Bogue

There couldn't have been any more pressure weighing down on the shoulders of Donal O'Hare as he stood over a penalty four minutes into the second half of the Down county final.

At the time, Kilcoo were a point ahead and looking as if they would manage to pull off a record-breaking seven consecutive Championships. In doing so, they would have beaten Burren in four of those deciders.

If the stakes couldn't be higher, O'Hare had a penalty earlier this year saved by Kilcoo goalkeeper Niall Kane in a league game. This time he drilled it home.

"I knew this penalty was make or break," said the 27-year old.

"I had no choice but to score it. The last one I actually hit against him, he saved it in the league game. I went the same side. I stood up and I knew I was going that side, and lucky he went the other side."

He added: "It wasn't in my mind when I hit it, but it was sort of in my mind leading up to the game, that was Monday or Tuesday, and the rest of the week just forgot about it and just being free, and it's probably something that's come with age.

"Just that wee bit more freedom and wee bit more confidence in your ability and no nerves, so I suppose when you play club football at a high level you want to be in that position and thankfully I stood up and got it."

O'Hare delivered a man-of-the-match performance, sinking a crucial goal from play eight minutes from time by shooting tight into the corner at the end of a long, patient attack by Burren to bring the Frank O'Hare Cup back for the first time since 2011.

O'Hare's coolness in front of goal makes sense when you consider he is a first cousin of Oisin McConville, while his grandfather Gene Morgan was corner-back on the Armagh team that reached the All-Ireland final in 1953, and he was known as the 'Man with the Golden Hands.'

Full-back Kevin McKernan knew that O'Hare had it in him to put his name up in lights.

"I have seen it with Donal with Down, and Burren in particular. To see Donal with the hands on the ball for a free-kick, it is such a relief to know you have a man like that on your team," McKernan said.

"The goal chances as well, to put away like that. He has put in hours of practice. You just have to see him around training and the stuff he pulls off."

His club have been out of the winner's enclosure for several years now, but there is a certain symmetry that it is Paddy O'Rourke, who won so much as a player including a couple of All-Ireland club titles in the '80s (although he missed out on the '88 final through an industrial accident) who is managing Burren now.

The current group is drawn largely from the teams that won five county Under-21s in a row and captured the Ulster Under-21 club title in the first two years of the Creggan Tournament in 2010 and 2011.

O'Hare explained: "Six years is a long time, and to get over the line today was good to be on the other side for once."

O'Rourke paid tribute to O'Hare's ability and revealed that the management have targeted him as a player they needed to unleash his full potential.

"That is one of the things we sat down and talked about and felt, in other years, it was the kind of thing that had let us down. So we got the response that we asked for and Donal led from the front with his workrate. If a forward doesn't work hard, he doesn't have everything in his pocket. But once he does that, his class shines out in the end."

O'Rourke has former Armagh forward and 2003 Player of the Year Stevie McDonnell as selector, and explained: "All we were looking for was him to transfer some of that belief into the Donal O'Hares of this world.

"I think you can see that's starting to happen. He just carries an awful belief.

"He spends a lot of time with our forwards and we've scored a lot all year. A lot of that must go down to him."

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