WEST Cork clubs are gearing up for a return to Cork SFC action following a four-month hiatus with the meeting of Castlehaven and Carbery Rangers headlining a busy upcoming period.
No doubt that the meeting of Castlehaven and Carbery Rangers will draw the biggest crowd and garner the most headlines when the divisional rivals clash in Skibbereen on Saturday. The winners will get a shot at reigning Cork SFC champions St Finbarr’s in while the losers face the worrying prospect of exiting the championship midway through the month of August.
Castlehaven and Carbery Rangers encounters are rarely dull and whilst both clubs respect the other's achievements, you can be certain that there will be no love lost once the opening whistle blows.
Rangers remain one of the most consistent teams in the county having reached the last four of the Cork SFC in seven of the previous eight years. Micheál O’Sullivan’s return to the dugout represented a sensible move back in 2018. Yet, even the Carbery bainisteoir was at a loss following his side’s inability to hit the heights of previous campaigns following this year’s surprise 2-9 to 1-9 opening round defeat to Ilen Rovers.
Even more unexpected was Castlehaven’s shock first round reversal at the hands of newcomers Fermoy at the beginning of April. The West Cork side lost 1-9 to 0-11 after Martin Brennan kicked over an injury-time point to win it for the East Cork club, their first appearance back amongst the senior ranks for over 50 years.
As the last two clubs pulled from the hat for this year’s second round draw, Carbery Rangers and Castlehaven must now face off in a ‘loser leaves town’ clash.
In terms of form, Rangers finished fifth in this year’s final Rochestown Park Hotel Division 1, overcoming the Barrs and Ballincollig either side of a 6-point defeat to Beal Áthan Ghaorthaidh during the past two months. As for Castlehaven, seven wins and a draw was enough to earn the West Cork club promotion from Division 2 at the second time of asking even though Mallow took league honours at the Carbery side’s expense following a 2-16 to 0-16 (league) final win.
Both teams possess match winners at either end of the pitch.
Inter-county stars Michael Hurley, Brian Hurley, Mark Collins and Damien Cahalane will form the spine of the Haven’s challenge as will Brian Shanahan, Kieran Fitzpatrick, John Hayes and John O’Rourke for their opponents.
In what will be a game of fine margins, neither side will want to exit the senior championship without registering a single victory, a rarity for both participants. There is enough quality in both starting 15s to make this one of the best championship games of the year.
Where Rangers deploy John O’Rourke and the Haven’ position Mark Collins could have the biggest bearing on the outcome. Both playmakers have the ability to release their respective forward lines as well as supplying the bulk of their team’s scoring: Collins 0-7 v Fermoy and O’Rourke 0-4 v Ilen Rovers.
It is hard to separate two clubs that know one another inside out but Castlehaven’s greater array of attacking talent should edge the result in their favour. It may even take a replay but we will give a tentative nod to the Union Hall-Castletownshend club in what should be an occasion to savour for all West Cork football supporters.
On the same evening Carbery Rangers and Castlehaven meet in Skibbereen, another West Cork club will be looking to upset the form book and advance beyond Round 3 of the Cork SFC.
It is less than 12 months since Dohenys edged Kiskeam by three points in a relegation play-off to retain their senior status.
Fast forward to April 2019 and the Dunmanway club managed to end a run of four years without a Cork SFC opening round victory by overcoming St Nick’s in Brinny. It has been a productive couple of years for Dohenys both at U21 and senior with rising stars such as Fionn Herlihy breaking onto the inter-county scene.
Reaching the 2019 Carbery U21A football decider following a string of impressive performances has helped senior manager Denis Healy and his backroom team. In fact, the bulk of Dohenys’ starting 15 will be drawn from both the club’s U21 and Minor ranks. It is a time of transition but Mark Buckley’s scoring prowess allied with Cathal O’Donovan, Fionn Herlihy, Eoin Lavers and Cullan Barry’s combined abilities bodes well for the West Cork club’s long-term future.
As for taking on Nemo, even an improving Dohenys will have their work cut out to quell a Trabeg side eager to atone for their shock quarter-final exit in last year’s championship. Castlehaven completely overwhelmed Nemo 1-11 to 0-4 in a one-sided contest (held in Dunmanway) but have since bounced back, racking up 3-14 en route to defeating Valley Rovers in the previous round.
That ruthless display owed much to another barnstorming Barry O’Driscoll performance with Paul Kerrigan and Conor Horgan also featuring prominently. The aforementioned trio along with (if available) Luke Connolly should help Paul O’Donovan’s side progress but only after the sternest of tests from a much improved Dohenys.