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The 17-year-old Ireland underage international who's already made a senior debut at club level

Mark O’Mahony featured for Cork City away to Longford last week.

Mark O'Mahony pictured playing for Ireland.
Mark O'Mahony pictured playing for Ireland.
Image: Ken Sutton/INPHO

THE FIRST DIVISION is sometimes derisively referred to as ‘the graveyard’ of Irish football owing to the low attendances and coverage it tends to generate, but there is no doubt that plenty of talented players have featured at this level in recent times.

Kevin Zefi, now of Inter and tipped as a potential future senior Ireland international, made his debut in the division with Shamrock Rovers II in 2020.

Cathal Heffernan, who has captained Ireland at underage level and joined AC Milan on loan last January, made his first-team bow for Cork City last year in Irish football’s second tier.

Another promising youngster who has just got his first taste of playing at senior level is Mark O’Mahony.

Like Zefi and Heffernan, O’Mahony has represented Ireland at underage level and is seen as a player of great potential.

Last Saturday, the 17-year-old was rewarded for his progress at underage level, coming off the bench late on for his first-team debut as Cork City drew 0-0 away to Longford.

One man who has played a big part in his development is Dave Moore.

Alongside the likes of former-City-players-turned-coaches Billy Woods, Dan Murray and Liam Kearney, U17s boss Moore has overseen O’Mahony’s development.

The youngster worked with Moore not just at Cork City but also local club Carrigaline United before then.

The Longford cameo was the latest encouraging step following an Ireland U17s debut against Mexico in September and signing a professional contract with the Leesiders in January.

“He was a late developer,” Moore tells The42. “At 14s and 15s, there was disappointment at not getting in the national squad. He was always on the fringes, but he didn’t actually get called into the international squad, so he just kept the head up. He’s gone away and worked really hard to where he’s got now.

“To be fair, he got good feedback from the international coaches where he needs to improve. They relayed the information to Cork City. The Cork City coaches then would have helped him develop what the international team coaches would have given in terms of feedback.

“But ultimately, it comes down to himself. Does he want to do it himself? And he’s that type of lad, he’s great at taking on information and he’ll work really hard and give everything towards the feedback that he gets.”

O’Mahony also does extra work outside training, with personal trainer Conor Meade praising his attitude during the lockdown in an interview with the Evening Echo

A talented attacker who has scored plenty of goals at underage level, Moore says the teenager possesses a striker’s instinct.

“It’s just consistency in scoring goals, finding himself in the right positions all the time, that’s the main thing for me is his consistency as a striker, where he should be. And scoring goals is a massive thing over the course of a season. He’s always in the right place at the right time. 

“But not only that, he brings in that link-up play as well. His hold-up play and game intelligence is quite good. He’s developed that with the coaches and feedback he’s got in the international setup.”

Moore says O’Mahony held his own in the 10 minutes or so he was on the pitch at Longford and is optimistic more first-team opportunities will come his way in the near future.

He also praises ex-Ireland international and current Cork City boss Colin Healy for giving him the opportunity in the first place.

“He contacts me with regards players at U17 level. He’s constantly watching games. He’s been giving me feedback on all games. It’s one thing that Colin will have, that open-door policy, no matter how young you are. If he feels you’re ready to step up to the first team, there’s no closed door. It’s brilliant for the academy.”

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Young players being given a chance to play in the League of Ireland is an increasingly common sight, with the average age of its footballers dropping significantly in recent years.

It is arguably one positive consequence of Brexit, which means Irish players must wait until the age of 18 to sign for British clubs.

It seems conceivable that the equivalent of O’Mahony five or 10 years ago would already be plying his trade across the water.

Yet Cork City and others have benefited to a degree from the reduced opportunities elsewhere.

“I think he benefited from playing in the national league,” adds Moore. 

“With regards to English clubs, his time at present has proven that he’s kicked on. International 17s, 18s, and gone on to U19s at Cork City now and getting first-team opportunities so I think it’s definitely the right pathway that he’s on.”

And how far could he go in the game potentially?

“With a young lad, it’s hard to judge. Because of his character, he’s hard-working and grounded, he’s going to give himself a right chance to go up another level or two. Where that takes him, I’m not too sure. But I am fairly confident that he could make a career out of playing football.” 

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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