Saturday 25 November 2017

'It was nice in the limelight but you can't live off things like that'

Exclusive: Clare's All-Ireland saviour O'Donovan going extra mile to balance living in Dublin with county ambitions

Clare hurler Domhnall O’Donovan pictured near his workplace in Santry, Dublin
Clare hurler Domhnall O’Donovan pictured near his workplace in Santry, Dublin
Domhnall O'Donovan scoring the equalising point in last year's All Ireland SHC final

Jackie Cahill

DOMHNALL O'Donovan is coming down from the high of another working day. He greets us close to Kerry Group's Santry base in the Northwood Business Park and confirms that a room has been set aside in the nearby Holiday Inn to conduct this interview.

Better there than in the hotel lobby, he says, before shutting down his laptop.

It hasn't been easy this year, O'Donovan candidly admits. Not even a man who scored one of the most important points in the history of Clare hurling is guaranteed a starting place for next Sunday's Munster SHC semi-final against Cork.

It's difficult enough with the likes of Seadna Morey and Jack Browne, to name but two, breathing down your neck. It didn't help O'Donovan's cause when he was based in the UK for six and a half weeks at the start of the year.

He was realistic enough to know that if he didn't train, he wouldn't play and O'Donovan's sum total of Allianz League games was two outings against Waterford and Galway.

But O'Donovan (26) has to see the bigger picture. A new €100m global technology and innovation centre, based in Naas, is coming down the tracks next year and employment with the global food giant is safe and secure, just how O'Donovan likes it.


"The move out to Naas would be difficult for me because I think it would seriously affect my three-minute walk to work," he smiles.

"That's one thing that works to my advantage. When I came up to Dublin, I found a place near work so that at least when I come up late on a Tuesday night after training, I can still get my eight hours of sleep and not have to get up at 6.30 in the morning!"

O'Donovan is a high achiever. He scored 530 points in his Leaving Certificate before studying Civil Engineering at NUI Galway.

He would later complete a Masters in Applied Science, with emphasis on enterprise systems, before opportunity knocked in the capital.

"I actually applied for Kerry Group for operations management – I could have been in a factory somewhere," O'Donovan reveals.

"Halfway through the recruitment process, which took about seven months, they asked me would I like to go for ICT (Information and Communications Technology) instead.

"I said I'd give it a go. I applied for it in 2011, was offered the job in March 2012 and started in August 2012. I applied for it after my Masters, as opposed to during my Masters. The year in between, I worked in Ennis.

"A lot of people thought I was crazy when I had a good job in Ennis and I left it to come to work in Dublin. I was with 4site Telecoms; they're like a design company for the telecoms industry.

"I was a civil engineer, but Kerry Group was too big an opportunity to pass up. You'd never know how things would have worked out, but last year kind of showed that it was manageable."

Domhnall's twin brother Cormac also studied in NUIG – and in the same course. In 2009, Cormac slotted over the winning point in the All-Ireland U-21 final, and four years later it was Domhnall who collected another score that will go down in Clare hurling folklore.

The stakes couldn't have been higher as Nicky O'Connell fed a pass to O'Donovan on the Cusack Stand touchline, deep into stoppage-time at the end of last year's All-Ireland SHC final. Clare, a point down, needed a hero and right corner-back O'Donovan obliged off his left-hand side from distance.

His LinkedIn page informs visitors that he is "a dedicated self-motivated team player with experience in many different industries".

He thrives on a challenge and is constantly seeking ways to improve.

But O'Donovan is a self-confessed worrier and when the radio in his car was broken for a spell, he found it rough travelling on his own from Dublin to Clare, alone with his thoughts. It's easier on the way back when he has plenty of time to think about the training session he has just completed. "What did I do wrong, what can I improve on, what was I happy with," he says.

"I do that with everything. I'd be a bit of a worrier sometimes and often it's about things that are out of my control and that shouldn't make a difference to you anyway. I just work out a lot of things in my head."

They may be twins but Domhnall says that he differs from Cormac in many ways. Cormac's the optimist and Domhnall's the pessimist, the guy for whom the post-mortem began immediately after leaving the exam hall.

Domhnall references the Gaelic Players' Association awareness campaign – We Wear More Than Our County Colours.

If he had a tattoo inscribed on his body, the word would be 'priorities'. But he has a significant other to bounce things off. "I've a girlfriend. Her name is Rachel Keaney. She's from Galway, I met her in college," O'Donovan says.

"I've been with her five years in November. She works in Google and lives in Dublin. That's another advantage obviously of living in Dublin.

"I like living in Dublin and I like the job. It's very hard to say that if I was to move to Clare, try to get a job down there and play hurling, that there wouldn't be negatives to that.

"I might not be doing a job that I like and I'd be so far away from my girlfriend as well. There are so many things to think about. I like life here.

"I don't have the same commitments that other people have – mortgages or kids or anything. If I'm finding it difficult, I don't know how they're finding it."

At work right now, it's a 'low volume period' and with school out for summer, it's a bit easier to get out of the capital on a training evening.

"I take the liberties that I can when things are quiet and I get down to as many training sessions as possible," O'Donovan confirms. "But Davy (Fitzgerald) has been pretty understanding of my situation. There are a few of us in this kind of environment."

It's certainly better now than it was in January and February, when O'Donovan was in the UK and "missed a lot of training". Working late, with only a few hours of brightness to play around with, he had to make do with some gym work.

"That environment is difficult to deal with when not being able to train or hurl is out of my control," he says.

"And then when you might get home at the weekend, they're playing a match and you haven't been training so you don't get picked. Last year I missed a few training sessions at the start of the year because I couldn't make it down.

"I wouldn't make it every Tuesday, but I'd be there every Friday. You'd at least get your hurling in then. But this year has been difficult, mainly because of the foreign travel."

O'Donovan smiles: "I'm a creature of habit at this stage. If I have to go from doing absolutely nothing to making these kind of commutes at these times, I'd be very reluctant to do them. But I'm used to them now, especially after the success of last year. It showed there was some reward in everything we did. It makes it easier to do."

O'Donovan, naturally, is concerned for his place on the team. He knows that "it's difficult to compete with lads that have more free time and are in the county".

"You've probably seen the Clare U-21s, how impressive they are. I'm competing with some of those lads for my place.

"The best thing about our team is that there is no position that's safe and everyone is really competitive. It keeps you on your toes," he says.

"With that kind of conveyor belt of underage talent coming through, it drives on the older generations as well.

"I'm saying older but I don't really feel that old! I saw a tweet with the Clare (U-21) team mentioned and I was looking at it thinking, 'is Seadna Morey still U-21?' I couldn't believe it. He's very fit and strong. It just doesn't seem that he's that age any more."

Morey is just one of the reasons why O'Donovan is reluctant to glance at the rear-view mirror.

That remarkable point against Cork last September catapulted him into the national consciousness for the three weeks between the draw and replay – before Shane O'Donnell came along.

O'Donovan reflects: "I dealt with it quite well. It really did blow over after three weeks. The limelight was a bit taken off. It was nice for a while but you can't live off things like that. I'm sure Shane will tell you the exact same thing. In life, I don't like to be static.

"You have to always have a purpose or be doing something; you have some sort of goal. If you're constantly looking back, you're not going forward."

And for O'Donovan, winning an All-Ireland senior medal was a welcome return to winning ways.

He'd grown accustomed to success from 2007 to 2010, when intermediate and senior county titles were annexed with his club Clonlara, along with the 2009 All-Ireland U-21 success and the Fitzgibbon crown in the spring of the following year.

"I was like, 'Everything I touch turns to gold'. It quickly dried up. It was a tough few years. Being out of the championship come mid-July was tough to take. That's what Davy's first year (2012) was like as well.

"It was all about getting promotion, and we got that, but then after beating Limerick, they knocked us out of the championship. You'd always like to progress in the championship as opposed to promotion in the league.

"Then 2013 came along and that drought ended. It was worth the wait."

Irish Independent

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