The Christy O'Connor column: Clubs like Valley Rovers and Éire Óg can challenge for senior counties in a new Cork GAA landscape

The Christy O'Connor column: Clubs like Valley Rovers and Éire Óg can challenge for senior counties in a new Cork GAA landscape
Jack Lyons, Valley Rovers, in action against Ballincollig defender Liam Jennings.Picture: Larry Cummins

TWO years ago, Valley Rovers crowned a remarkable three-year period for football in the club, a first U21 A football title in 2013, a Premier Intermediate football title a year later, another U21 A football crown in 2015.

That 2015 U21 success was all the sweeter because after having lost to Nemo Rangers at the semi-final stage in 2014, Valleys returned 12 months later to defeat Nemo by nine points in the final. Winning a maiden U21 A title was a major breakthrough but securing a second in three years was a huge statement. 

Darragh Kerins, Nemo Rangers, tackles Billy Crowley, Valley Rovers, in the 2015 replay. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Darragh Kerins, Nemo Rangers, tackles Billy Crowley, Valley Rovers, in the 2015 replay. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

They were a talented and well-coached group but Valleys success also hinted at a developing trend in Cork GAA. The club always had a strong tradition in both codes but their recent progress at underage football is a good example of how the demographic shift is changing – and will change – the club culture in Cork. 

The village of Inishannon has grown rapidly in recent years due to its proximity to Cork city, and has now become a dormitory town for many city workers. Valley Rovers and a number of clubs just south and west of the city will, with proper internal structures and strong leadership, benefit from the population growth that naturally comes with increasing urbanisation.

Noel Galvin, Ballincollig, is first to the ball ahead of Fiachra Lynch, Valley Rovers. Picture: Larry Cummins
Noel Galvin, Ballincollig, is first to the ball ahead of Fiachra Lynch, Valley Rovers. Picture: Larry Cummins

Ballincollig were always likely to be the first and primary benefactors, from the huge growth pushing out west from the city. They have won a county senior football title, and contested another final in the last four years. In the coming years, and with sustained growth, Valley Rovers will have the potential to win a senior football title.

Hurling will always be strong in those areas just west and south of the city but there will naturally be even more potential for football growth and development due to location. Some people from west Cork moving to work and live in the city will naturally gravitate towards the western suburbs, and western and southern outer city regions, because it is nearer home.

The culture is changing all the time. 

Jack Murphy jumps high to gather the ball ahead of Brendan Powter, Douglas, when the club won its first Premier 1 MFC title. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Jack Murphy jumps high to gather the ball ahead of Brendan Powter, Douglas, when the club won its first Premier 1 MFC title. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Éire Óg were always a traditional hurling club until underage football emerged as a force in the 1990s, with the club winning a first minor A title in 2002, and landing a second four years later. A Junior county title was secured in 2008, with the club winning a first Intermediate football championship in 2014. 

And in the middle of that success, Éire Óg had two players – Ciaran Sheehan and Daniel Goulding – win All-Ireland senior football medals in 2010. Sheehan’s departure to Australia was a huge loss but Éire Óg have the potential to win the Premier Intermediate football in the coming seasons.

Ovens is largely a rural parish but new housing has increased the population in recent years, and the potential within the club further underlines the potential future landscape within towns, and villages near Cork city. The last couple of years have been good for larger dual clubs, especially towns with a decent population base. 

Éire Óg's Daniel Goulding tests the jersey of Bantry Blues Connie O'Leary. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Éire Óg's Daniel Goulding tests the jersey of Bantry Blues Connie O'Leary. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Kanturk had a superb year, winning the Premier Intermediate hurling title and Intermediate football. After winning Munster, they are now favourites to win the All-Ireland Intermediate hurling title in February.

Fermoy reached the Premier Intermediate hurling and Premier Intermediate football finals in 2016. Mallow reached both Premier Intermediate hurling and football finals this year, winning the football, and narrowly losing the hurling to a Kanturk team with 11 dual players. Mallow beat a St Michael’s team in the football final, a number of whom played in the senior hurling final with Blackrock. 

Bandon achieved a remarkable double in 2016, winning the Premier Intermediate hurling title and the Intermediate football title.

It is a numbers game but the condensing of the championships has allowed dual clubs to build momentum. 

There are drawbacks from playing both codes every successive week, especially with injuries, but larger numbers, and the spirit engendered from constantly winning, overrides many of those concerns. Most of these town clubs have never been stronger, or going better. 

Kanturk’s progression in both codes has been remarkable - four county titles (Junior and Intermediate football, Intermediate and Premier Intermediate hurling) in six years. It’s even more sensational considering Kanturk’s hurlers and footballers had never played higher than the third tier of the Cork championships.

Bandon are now senior hurling again. After being Junior football up until 2015, they are now just one step away from being a dual senior club. Fermoy were playing Junior championship hurling up to 2009, while they won the Intermediate in 2014, and almost went senior in 2016.

Bandon's Darren Crowley is tackled by Mallow's Aaron Cahill. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Bandon's Darren Crowley is tackled by Mallow's Aaron Cahill. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

There are other towns with growing potential. Mitchelstown should win the Intermediate football title in the coming years, which will allow them to push on and potentially play senior football. Their sister hurling club, Ballygiblin, are capable of winning a North Cork Junior hurling title.

Despite the lack of numbers, rural clubs still often have an advantage over town teams because hurling and football define their identity more clearly. There are more attractions and options for town players but, on the other hand, it is still often easier for town teams to create an identity than it is for many city clubs.

Any county always wants, and needs its town teams going well for the welfare and benefit of its inter-county teams. With the number of towns in Cork though, the benefits are far greater if those town clubs are going well.

And at the moment, many certainly are. 

In both codes.

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