Carbery Rangers end the year as county senior football kingpins but which West Cork sides are best placed to challenge the first-time champions in 2017? Ger McCarthy casts his eye over the Carbery Division’s senior club representative’s chances.
From a West Cork point of view, it was refreshing to see the Andy Scannell Cup brought beyond the Viaduct once again following Carbery Rangers’ thrilling three-point victory over Ballincollig this past October.
The outpouring of emotion at the final whistle underlined what winning a first ever Cork SFC title meant to Rangers’ supporters as they celebrated on the Páirc Uí Rinn pitch and back home in Rosscarbery.
A huge amount of goodwill from fellow West Cork clubs was palpable ahead of Ross’ county final appearance but rest assured that has since been replaced by a determination to knock the newly crowned champions off their perch.
Most of the Carbery division’s senior clubs will shortly begin their winter training programmes in the hope of emulating Rangers’ success so who, if anyone, is best placed to dethrone the champions?
Champions in 2012 and 2013, runners-up in 2015, Castlehaven remain one of West Cork’s most consistent senior clubs yet have struggled to match their trademark intensity and consistent scoring ability since back-to-back titles three years ago.
The Union Hall club’s two epic encounters with Carbery Rangers in the fourth round of the county championship back in 2014 proved a turning point as the Rosscarbery club held their ground in a bruising 1-11 to 1-11 draw before triumphing in emphatic fashion, 2-14 to 1-8, in the subsequent replay.
Little doubt that Brian Hurley’s injury woes have stilted Castlehaven’s attack while an influx of U21’s including Conor Cahalane, Cathal Maguire and Michael Hurley are still finding their feet at senior level.
Yet, it’s clear that the Haven’ are the best placed West Cork club to challenge Carbery Rangers’ superiority next year. A return to their past glories is possible provided Castlehaven’s problematic full-back line tightens up, Mark Collins and Damien Cahalane avoid serious injury and Brian Hurley makes a positive impact whenever the Cork inter-county forward returns.
The Brewery Town put a traumatic, relegation-threatened 2015 campaign behind them by retaining their senior status with a much needed championship victory over St. Nick’s this past summer. CIT proved too strong in round three but a positive showing in their opening defeat to Castlehaven and improved league form points to a (potentially) productive 2017.
Paul Holland will look to his inter-county stalwarts Sean White and Tom Clancy for inspiration and build an emerging team around former minor and U21 talents David Lowney, Ross Mannix, Sean McEvoy, Liam O’Donovan and Mark White.
Clonakilty will be eager to at least challenge local rivals Carbery Rangers this coming season but a young squad, lacking experience at the business end of the Cork SFC may have to wait another year before realising its potential.
The sooner 2016 is over the better for O’Donovan Rossa’s senior footballers who suffered consecutive defeats to divisional sides Carbery and Avondhu before seeing off Clyda Rovers in a relegation play-off to save an otherwise underwhelming Cork SFC campaign.
Progress at county minor underage level has provided renewed hope in recent months and Skibbereen possesses an experienced panel more than capable of mixing it with the best in the county.
An injection of youth coupled with more consistency from Donal Óg Hodnett, Daniel Hazel and (if fit) Kevin Davis should see O’Donovan Rossa improve next year. That said, Rossa’s are still some way off challenging Carbery Rangers for top honours based on their past twelve months experiences.
The West Cork dual senior club don’t often get the credit they deserve for competing at the highest level on two separate fronts. Newcestown’s 2016 football campaign saw them overcome Aghada and UCC before Avondhu ended their interest in the competition at the fourth round stage.
The club’s hurlers descent into a Cork SHC relegation play-off suggests a renewed focus and effort to avoid a similar fate in the coming year might yet affect the footballer’s chances of building on another respectable Cork SFC showing.
That would be a pity as Newcestown have proven more than a match for their West Cork rival clubs in league and championship meetings during recent times but that extra gear required to take out a title-contender like Carbery Rangers is still missing.
Similar to O’Donovan Rossa, Ilen Rovers U21’s rather than their senior footballers dominated the club’s on-field exploits over the past twelve months. Winning a Carbery divisional U21 title before losing a county final to St. Finbarr’s underlines the burgeoning talent coming though Ilen’s ranks including Sean O’Donovan, Jack Bushe and Stephen Leonard.
Encouraging signs in the Cork SFC saw Rovers account for Dohenys and Carrigaline before pushing Castlehaven all the way in round four. So, 2017 is a massive year for Ilen as the West Cork club looks to build on their U21 success. Although capable of causing an upset or two, Rovers may have to wait before challenging for top honours.
A Dohenys squad blighted by long-term injuries and the loss of several players to emigration meant last year’s Cork SFC campaign was always going to be an uphill struggle. So it proved, with an upcoming relegation play-off replay against St. Nick’s offering Dohenys last chance of registering a championship victory.
The proud West Cork club will look to incoming manager Tim Buckley plus their talented youth ranks in the hope of rebuilding over the coming years and where securing their senior status will be of paramount importance.