THE 2014 West Cork Schoolboys League SFAI Kennedy Cup squad proved a talented group and included current Irish international athlete Darragh McElhinney.
Nowadays, Glengarriff native Darragh McElhinney is busy making headlines all over the world as an up-and-coming Irish international distance runner. The 20-year-old athlete added to his growing reputation by claiming his first senior men’s national championship in last year’s men’s 5000m at the Irish senior track and field championships.
Yet as a 14-year-old, and long before his dominance of the athletics track began, McElhinney was one of the Bantry Bay Rovers’ underage academy’s most talented graduates. The summer of 2014 saw McElhinney plus teammates Kuba Ratajczak and Ryan O’Sullivan selected to represent the WCSL at the annual SFAI Kennedy Cup.
West Cork’s odyssey began with a group opener against Cavan-Monaghan and was quickly followed by a double-header with Inishowen and top seeds Waterford. Humid weather conditions were a hallmark of the WCSL’s week at the University of Limerick and a factor in the young side’s 3-0 defeat to Cavan-Monaghan on the opening day.
Soaring temperatures along with a late decision to switch West Cork’s opening game to an all-weather playing surface meant Dan McCarthy’s side never got going but could have little argument with the game’s outcome.
As expected, Waterford proved too strong in West Cork’s second outing. The group’s top seeds inflicted a second consecutive 3-0 defeat on the WCSL in a game the latter’s goalkeeper Mike Aynsley was forced off injured. A torrid opening phase concluded with Inishowen edging a tight encounter 1-0 later that same afternoon.
Some context is needed at this juncture as all three of the WCSL’s group opponents proved their quality during the latter stages of the SFAI’s most prestigious tournament.
Waterford defeated Sligo-Leitrim (1-0) and Limerick District (1-0) to reach the Kennedy Cup final where reigning champions DDSL proved too strong and ran out 2-1 winners. Cavan-Monaghan finished second in Group 4 and lost 2-0 to Cork before rebounding to overcome Limerick County (2-0) and Athlone (4-2 on penalties) for a 13th overall finish. Inishowen were unfortunate to lose 5-4 on penalties to South Dublin before hammering Dundalk (5-2) and edging North Dublin (2-1) to finish 21st.
As for West Cork, no wins from their opening three games meant the rural region had little option but to dust themselves down and prepare for a Kennedy Trophy quarter-final meeting with Clare.
Admirably, the WCSL put their previous results behind them and produced a sizzling display. Cathal Keane unleashed a 30-yard screamer into the top corner to score his side’s first goal of the tournament. Sean O’Riordan setup Ryan O’Sullivan to make it 2-0 shortly after.
Josh DeLacey released O’Sullivan for his second of the afternoon ahead of Dean Harte setting up Trevor Healy to put the seal on a 4-0 triumph. The WCSL had little time to bask in their success as they began preparations for a Kennedy Trophy semi-final against the Midlands the following morning.
Goalkeeper Mike Aynsley was in top form on that occasion and ensured the sides changed ends tied 0-0. West Cork were not going to be denied however and produced a stunning second half display to score four times.
Ryan O’Sullivan made it three goals in two games prior to Christian Buttimer curling home a free-kick from the edge of the penalty area. Buttimer capped a superb individual performance with his second of the game direct from a corner kick. Ryan O’Sullivan continued his hot scoring streak with West Cork’s fourth strike. To their credit, the Midlands continued to press forward and were rewarded with two late consolation goals.
Kilkenny and West Cork faced off in the Kennedy Trophy decider on the final day of competition at UL’s sports complex. The Leinster side opened the scoring midway through the first half following a quick breakaway. In complete control, Kilkenny doubled their lead before the half-time whistle.
A change in formation had the desired effect as a rejuvenated West Cork took the game to their opponents in the second period. Ryan O’Sullivan and Christian Buttimer went close but the WCSL couldn’t find a way past an inspired Kilkenny goalkeeper. The Leinster side held on for a 2-0 victory but West Cork could take solace in rebounding from three consecutive losses to register consecutive Kennedy Trophy victories over Clare and the Midlands before coming up short in the final.
A week that began with three defeats in two days could easily have derailed West Cork’s Kennedy Cup campaign. Yet, a young panel dug deep and won back-to-back knockout ties to qualify for the Kennedy Trophy final. As a result, the WCSL class of 2014 will always look back on their week at the University of Limerick with pride.
Mike Aynsley (Leeside), Kuba Ratajczak (Bantry Bay Rovers), Darragh McElhinney (Bantry Bay Rovers), Ciarán Nyhan (Lyre Rovers), Fintan Barrett (Ardfield), Cathal Keane (Ardfield), Jason Murray (Skibbereen), Darragh Hayes (Ardfield), Ryan O’Sullivan (Bantry Bay Rovers), Josh DeLacey (Kilmichael Rovers), Christian Buttimer (Lyre Rovers), Alex Minihane (Skibbereen), Trevor Healy (Leeside), Jack Collins (Skibbereen), Jack Wycherley (Clonakilty AFC), Dean Harte (Clonakilty AFC Youths), Sean O’Riordan (Leeside), King Iyalla (Clonakilty AFC), Adam Hunt (Clonakilty AFC Youths) and Dara Lynch (Sullane).
Cavan/Monaghan 3 West Cork 0, Waterford 3 West Cork 0, Inishowen 1 West Cork 0.
West Cork 4 Clare 0.
West Cork 4 Midlands 2.
Kilkenny 2 West Cork 0.