It's early days in the football championships but the city clubs will be the teams to beat

It's early days in the football championships but the city clubs will be the teams to beat
Colm Scully, St Finbarr's, gets to the ball ahead of Jack McCarthy, Carrigaline. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

NEMO, the Barrs, Carbery Rangers and Ballincollig all progressed through the opening round, ensuring there weren't any shocks in the senior football championship last weekend.

Those four sides, in roughly that order, are the primary contenders for the Andy Scannell Cup this season, with Castlehaven, Valley Rovers and – to a lesser extent – O'Donovan Rossa capable of pushing beyond the summer.

And that's what it's all about, the real championship when the pitches have hardened up and then soften again as we roll into October. The SFC, and the championships in general, in Cork are bloated at the moment, the trade-off for scrapping the previous system of relegation and promotion.

That leads to regular mismatches and strips the early phase of the season of any tension. For all that there were some notable displays in this unseasonably wet and grim April.

O'Donovan Rossa's Kevin Davis and Aghada's Tim Hartnett go high for the ball. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
O'Donovan Rossa's Kevin Davis and Aghada's Tim Hartnett go high for the ball. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Kevin Davis, a former Reardens Club All-Star when Skibb last reached the SFC semi-finals, kicked 1-11 in Rossa's victory over Aghada. After running to stand still for a couple of seasons, the west Cork side have been underperforming. With Davis, Donal Óg Hodnett, wing-back Mark Collins, Thomas Hegarty and Cork keeper Ryan Price they've the nucleus of a competitive outfit.

Their great rivals Castlehaven aren't as potent as they were when Brian Hurley was at his unmarkable pomp, which is hardly surprising. He's currently rehabbing from a career-threatening hamstring tear, yet they still hit Dohenys for 2-15.

Damien Cahalane, Mark Collins, Roland Whelton, Chris Hayes, David Limrick and Michael Hurley were at the heart of Haven's dominant spell from 2011 to 2015, but the takeaway from Saturday's win, was the 2-2 haul of Conor O'Driscoll and the six points from play landed by Conor Cahalane. Now their Dunmanway opponents are young – with a clutch of the club's most experienced footballers domiciled in Australia – yet Castlehaven showed they haven't gone away.

The most high-profile clash down west was Carbery Rangers and Clon, with the favourites repeating the result from 2017, though after a dogfight: 0-11 to 0-8. Ross keeper Paul Shanahan made a crucial stop, while they'd a spread of scorers – six in total – and coped without Seamus and John Hayes in the last quarter.

Clon ran Ballincollig very close in last winter's league decider but they've a tough back-door game against Newcestown coming up to remain on course. It's a cliché that Newcestown are always hard to beat, yet given how small their playing pool is and the fact they're senior in both codes, they're certainly a club to admire.

A Valley Rovers' comeback saw Newcestown edged 3-6 to 1-9 on Sunday. They'll still fancy their chances against Clon you'd imagine.

Valleys made it to the quarter-finals last year, beating Ballincollig on the way, and while Fiachra Lynch and Kevin Canty are their best-known footballers, they've power and youth through the lines.

It was business as usual for Nemo and the Barrs. West Cork is viewed as the spiritual home of football on Leeside but the city outfits are the teams to beat right now.

Paul Kerrigan and Paddy Gumley were absent for Nemo against Clyda through injury, Tomás Ó Sé has retired, and there's a new manager at the helm in Paul O'Donovan, yet the result was emphatic, 1-16 to 0-5.

Nemo's new manager Paul O'Donovan is congraulated after defeating Clyda. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Nemo's new manager Paul O'Donovan is congraulated after defeating Clyda. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

There were a few changes to the line-up, with veteran Peter Morgan returning and a minor making his debut in Mark Cronin, the younger brother of Stephen and Alan, but that was never going to matter.

Luke Connolly struck for 1-7, while interestingly Billy Morgan was back on the line, as a selector in the new management.

This is a huge campaign for St Finbarr's, who pushed Nemo to the brink in two epic county finals last year, having eliminated Ballincollig and Carbery Rangers to get there, but are still without a title since 1985. That their second team hammered Gabriel Rangers 3-18 to 1-3 on Saturday night in the IFC tells the tale of their strengh in depth.

Steven Sherlock shot 0-10 for their seniors in a 1-17 to 3-6 joust with Carrigaline, with Enda Dennehy and Cillian Meyers-Murray firing 1-6 from play between them. It was job done more than anything, but no one will fancy facing them at the next stage.

Ballincollig, having lifted their maiden county in 2014 and reached the final again in 2016, remain a force though they didn't show their full hand against Ilen. Six points from Cian Dorgan and another 0-3 from wing-back Cian Kiely provided a platform for a 0-15 to 0-8 victory.

Rovers, who were actually coached by Ballincollig boss Tom Dorgan when they won the intermediate in 2003 to go senior, have a few classy ball players with underage pedigree for Cork in Dan Mac Eoin, Tom Bushe and Stephen Leonard. However Alan Holland is travelling and Kevin O'Sullivan is no longer involved, which leaves Conor O'Driscoll as the most experienced figure in a team featuring seven U21s.

Ballincollig's Alan Donovan wins the ball from Naomh Abán's Liam Ó Luasa back in 2015. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ballincollig's Alan Donovan wins the ball from Naomh Abán's Liam Ó Luasa back in 2015. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

In contrast, the Collig were able to bring Alan Donovan – who featured in the county final four years ago – into the line-up after a few seasons spoiled by injury. He chipped in with 0-2.

John Miskella also split the posts after coming off the bench. Now 40, Miskella is an absolute inspiration for any young player, having first played senior for Ballincollig back in 1996.

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