Summer soccer in West Cork hindered by GAA clashes and Covid call-offs

Summer soccer in West Cork hindered by GAA clashes and Covid call-offs

The Lyre Rovers U13 squad celebrate winning the 2020 SuperValu West Cork Schoolboys League U13 Cup.

THE SuperValu West Cork Schoolboys League can reflect on an unprecedented year as 2020 draws to a close.

The WCSL’s decision to move from their traditional September-May calendar season to a new March-November format proved a divisive talking point for the region’s clubs and supporters.

West Cork Schoolboys League delegates voted and agreed to pilot the move for a three-year period at their AGM. Unfortunately, those plans were severely interrupted by a global pandemic this past year. Covid-19’s implications aside, most clubs adapted as best they could to the new calendar format.

Yet, many of the region’s rural setups struggled and continue to struggle to retain coaches and players.

Finding adequate time to fit in GAA and other sporting commitments, especially during the summer months, resulted in some WCSL clubs withdrawing teams from the league’s age-grades due to a drop in playing numbers.

An inability to fit in enough soccer training sessions due to an overcrowded sporting calendar was one reason cited for some rural clubs losing out.

That development was not unexpected as the WCSL Committee and clubs acknowledged such a seismic alteration to their fixtures calendar would need at least three years to bed in.

Covid-19 has delayed that bedding in period and the reality is that clubs encountering difficulties retaining members will continue to do so in 2021.

On the positive side, many WCSL clubs have flourished since the change of calendar format. Regular games coupled with better playing surfaces and improved weather conditions have been welcomed along with the opportunity to complete midweek fixtures. The reality is that moving to a new March-November setup was never going to suit every WCSL club. Only time will tell if rural setups currently struggling to keep their coaches and players on board can rebound over the coming seasons.

As for 2020, the West Cork Schoolboys League’s new-look age-grades and divisional setups were due to kick-off when Covid first hit back in March. No competitive or friendly matches were played until August 8 with a novel restructuring of the region’s cup competitions proving a big hit.

As part of the WCSL's safe return to football, each region’s knockout competitions were run off as mini-blitzes and completed before the end of August. Designated venues housed each cup’s qualifying groups with all (group) matches completed in one day. Following that, the concluding semi-final and final rounds of the WCSL Cups were also run off on the same day at designated venues.

The SuperValu U11 Cup was won by Bantry Bay Rovers following a 1-0 defeat of Dunmanway Town in the final. The same two clubs contested the U12 Cup decider with Bay Rebels once again overcoming their Mohona opponents by a single goal.

Bay, Dunmanway, Lyre Rovers and Skibbereen Phoenix reached the last four of the SuperValu U13 Cup. Lyre denied Bantry Bay a third cup success following a 2-0 triumph in the final. The SuperValu U14 competition proved equally entertaining with Skibbereen defeating Bay Rovers and Drinagh Rangers edging Kilmichael Rovers in the semi-finals. Skibb and Drinagh finished 1-1 in the U14 Cup final before the Canon Crowley Park side edged a penalty shootout 5-3 to take the trophy.

Rangers followed up that success by also claiming the SuperValu U15 Cup thanks to a 4-0 win over Bunratty United on their home ground of Canon Crowley Park. Riverside Athletic defeated Drinagh 2-0 in the SuperValu U16 Cup semi-finals before edging Bunratty 1-0 in the decider.

Riverside Athletic captain William Hennigan accepting the 2020 SuperValu West Cork Schoolboys League U16 Cup trophy from WCSL Committee member David Hall.
Riverside Athletic captain William Hennigan accepting the 2020 SuperValu West Cork Schoolboys League U16 Cup trophy from WCSL Committee member David Hall.

Then, it was time for the WCSL Committee to turn their attention towards a revamped league structure once all their cup competitions were successfully completed by the end of August. The introduction of Champions League-style groups saw the WCSL’s U11, U12, U13, U14, U15 and U16 age-grades begin their campaigns in early September.

All the group phase qualifiers were scheduled to progress to knockout stages where quarter-final, semi-final and finals would determine 2020 WCSL league champions across six age-grades. Unfortunately, Covid-19 intervened for a second time and brought a complete halt to proceedings in early October.

The SuperValu West Cork Schoolboys League remains in limbo as 2020 turns into 2021. 

There is no confirmation as to if or when the rural league will have an opportunity to finish out its leagues in the New Year. The month of March will hopefully herald the beginning of a new campaign but that will depend on HSE and government guidelines.

At the time of writing, Lyre Rovers and Dunmanway Town sit joint-top of the U11 Championship Division after three rounds of games. The U12 Premier League is split into three qualifying groups with Bantry Bay Rebels sitting atop Group A, Dunmanway and Clonakilty AFC joint-top of Group B, Skibbereen B leading Group C and Riverside Athletic Tigers out in front of Group D. Only one round of fixtures remains to decide who qualifies for the knockout stages.

Kilmichael Rovers, Ardfield and Dunmanway Town have qualified for the SuperValu U13 Premier League play-offs via Group A. Skibbereen Dynamos and Lyre Rovers have emerged from Group B as have Clonakilty AFC, Skibbereen Phoenix and Riverside Athletic from Group C.

The race to become SuperValu U14 Premier League champions sees Skibbereen and Bay Rovers occupying the top two slots in Group A with one round of games remaining. Whoever emerges from that group will be joined by their Group B equivalents where Drinagh Rangers currently lead the way.

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