A 12th consecutive SuperValu West Cork League Masters season hangs in the balance following the Covid-19 outbreak.
For the last 11 years, clubs have competed in annual SuperValu Masters League, Cup, Shield, and Plate competitions throughout west Cork. Initially created to cater for former West Cork League players aged over 33, the Masters morphed into one of the region’s most popular summer football tournaments and bridged the gap between the end and restart of the (winter) junior competitions.
Long summer evenings, good weather and improved playing pitches helped grow the West Cork Masters from humble beginnings. Last year’s competitions involved 10 clubs spread across Eastern and Western conferences competing for four trophies.
Alas, Covid-19’s outbreak means the 2020 Masters League is now in serious jeopardy following the FAI statement.
Irish soccer’s governing body announced an extension to the cessation of all football activities under its jurisdiction until April 19 inclusive, following directives from the Government, Department of Health and UEFA.
The statement read: “The decision to extend a deadline for the return to football has been taken in light of the ever-growing threat posed by the Covid-19 outbreak and in the best interests of our players, coaches, volunteers, supporters, and staff. This decision will continue to be monitored on an ongoing basis.
“The FAI is in communication with the Department of Health and Uefa on Covid-19 and will continue to follow all government guidelines. The association advises all members, volunteers, and stakeholders to respect the HSE guidelines on social distancing during this pandemic.”
When contacted, West Cork League secretary John Buckley reiterated the Masters League’s adherence to its FAI governing organisation’s stance on the health and safety of its players.
“It’s very difficult to plan ahead just yet,” Buckley admitted to The Echo.
“Having said that, the masters is something that will still go ahead, if at all possible, but not until we are given the all-clear by the FAI. Until then, the health and well-being of all our West Cork League and masters players is the most important thing and we just want them to stay safe.”
It would be a huge disappointment to West Cork League clubs if the 2020 Masters competitions were unable to go ahead. Yet, everyone involved understands that health and safety comes first, but in all likelihood, a reduced masters format may be the only alternative to skipping an entire summer campaign.
West Cork League cup competitions traditionally begin in mid-August, reducing the probability of a delayed late summer masters season as most players are needed for the junior league’s kick-off in early September.
Last year’s masters league is regarded as one of the most entertaining and closely fought for many years.
Two conferences split 10 clubs into separate groups of five. Each club played one another once within their respective conference with the top two progressing to the Masters League play-offs. Third and fourth in each conference battled it out for the Masters Bowl while the bottom placed clubs contested the Masters Shield final.
The Western Conference was made up of Bantry Bay Masters, Bantry Bay Seniors, Bunratty United, Drinagh Rangers, and Dunmanway Town. In the Eastern Conference, Castlelack, Castletown Celtic, Clonakilty Town, Cloughduv Celtic, and Innishvilla made for a quality line-up.
For the second consecutive summer, Bantry Bay Seniors and Castlelack met in the shield decider. The latter claimed the first masters trophy of the season thanks to a 3-0 win in Mohona. Bryan Powell broke the deadlock before Brendan Scahill doubled Castlelack’s advantage. Ger Sheehan capped off a fine display with his side’s third goal of the evening.
Bantry Bay Masters, Bunratty United, Clonakilty Town, and Cloughduv Celtic played off for the bowl. Each of the entrants occupied either the third or fourth position in their final conference standings and it was surprise packages Bay Masters and 2018 winners Cloughduv who made it through to the final following a round-robin play-off group.
The bowl decider delivered a cracking encounter and required extra-time to decide the outcome. Bantry Bay opened the scoring inside six minutes thanks to Ross Leahy. Celtic fought back and drew level just before half- time when Derek McCarthy equalised following a flowing move.
Robbie Walsh edged Cloughduv in front courtesy of a terrific individual strike early in the second period, but Bay Masters refused to go away and forced extra-time when Kieran Hourihane’s free-kick caught their opponents off guard.
It was to be Celtic’s evening however, as Robbie Walsh netted a goal of the season contender to win it 3-2 for a delighted Cloughduv.
The Masters League title was handed out on the same evening Cloughduv retained their Bowl trophy. As expected, Drinagh Rangers and Dunmanway Town qualified for the league play-offs via the Western Conference while Castletown Celtic and Innishvilla made it through from the East.
A round-robin series saw Castletown and Innishvilla finish top of the play-offs table on six points apiece and move forward to the Masters League final. Mohona was the venue for the title-showdown in which Rory Kelleher edged Castletown 1-0 up at the interval. John Horgan put the seal on Castletown’s championship winning 2-0 victory by unleashing a terrific effort into the top corner.
Last summer produced another memorable masters season. The hope is that covid-19 won’t deny the region’s coaches, players, and supporters an opportunity to enjoy the annual competitions this year.