WEST CORK GAA clubs are eager for a return to Bons Secours county football championship action in 2021 and none more so than premier senior finalists Castlehaven.
The past 12 months proved frustrating for the Carbery division’s clubs with only Castlehaven and Newcestown reaching the knockout stages of the premier senior championship.
So, what are the rural region’s club’s chances of making an impact in the top tier later this year?
The Cork PSFC is still to be decided as 2020 turns into 2021 with Nemo Rangers and Castlehaven’s county final tentatively pencilled in for March at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Disappointed not to have finished off their championship, the Haven, under James McCarthy and John Cleary’s tutelage, remain primed to add a sixth county title following an impressive run to the decider.
Seeing off fellow West Cork rivals Newcestown, Ilen Rovers and Carbery Rangers whilst amassing 5-45 in the opening group phase, Castlehaven squeezed past St Finbarr’s following an epic semi-final.
Tied 1-13 apiece at the end of extra-time, Mark Collins scored the all-important winner in a 4-3 penalty shootout victory.
Unsurprisingly, Collins (2-15) and Brian Hurley (0-17) topped their team’s scoring charts. Yet, a supporting cast including Damien Cahalane, Michael Hurley, Conor Cahalane and Cathal Maguire backboned the West Cork side’s county final qualification.
Win or lose, James McCarthy’s maturing squad is expected to challenge for Andy Scannell once again in 2021.
The youngest members of the Haven’s senior panel improved substantially during their most recent championship run.
So, the curve remains upward for a Castlehaven team that will be amongst the title-contenders at the premier senior grade once again this year.
Disappointingly, most of the Carbery division’s other premier senior clubs had little to cheer about in 2020.
Newcestown were the exception to that statement, qualifying for the last eight in the county football as well as reaching the Co-Op Superstores Cork senior A hurling championship semi-finals.
That’s a terrific return for any dual club in a single calendar year. This current Newcestown squad has proven it can challenge at the business end of the football championship having also reached the 2019 semi-finals.
Any team that can call upon the likes of Daniel Twomey, Micheál McSweeney, David Buckley and Tadgh Twomey will continue to hold their own in Cork GAA’s top football tier but, for now, are unlikely to unseat perennial contenders Nemo, Castlehaven or St Finbarr’s.
Carbery Rangers were disappointed not to emerge from an all-West Cork group despite overcoming Ilen Rovers and running Castlehaven close whilst missing some of their most experienced campaigners. Newcestown’s 2-12 to 2-9 win denied Rangers a place in the knockout stages.
Rosscarbery’s Brian Shanahan, Seamus Hayes, James Fitzpatrick, Brian Hodnett and John O’Rourke will be desperate to bounce back and Rangers possess enough experience to improve on their 2020 showing.
The ability to integrate younger players alongside Keelan Scannell and Darragh Hayes will be crucial over the coming months.
Ilen Rovers’ 0-18 to 1-6 defeat of Bishopstown retained the former’s premier senior status at the end of a frustrating season and tough group phase.
A full-forward line comprising of Sean O’Donovan, Dan Mac Eoin and Stephen Leonard is capable of tearing apart any defence in the top grade and there is just as much talent playing directly behind that trio.
A similar scenario awaits in the upcoming championship unless Rovers achieve a more consistent level of performance.
Clonakilty was another West Cork club that struggled to live up to their 2020 expectations.
Failing to build on their opening-day championship victory over Carrigaline, a heavy loss to Ballincollig preceded a gutsy showing but second consecutive defeat at the hands of the Barr’s.
Failure to emerge from their championship group represented a huge disappointment for a club that has produced six Cork senior footballers in recent times.
Sean White and Liam O’Donovan’s injuries hurt the Brewery Town’s prospects but there was still enough talent and experience present to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Maurice Shanley, Dan Peet, Dara Ó Sé and Sean McEvoy are some of the players Clonakilty will turn to in the upcoming premier senior championship as well as their (other) Cork contingent.
Considering the talent at their disposal, Clon need to start producing more consistent displays in the county’s highest football grade.