West Cork soccer veterans hoping Masters League can return this summer

Competition for over 33s has grown in popularity but was cancelled in 2020
West Cork soccer veterans hoping Masters League can return this summer

Let the champagne flow as Ardfield FC celebrate winning the 2009 West Cork Masters Cup final.

MY phone has buzzed with the same request during the month of March every year since 2009.

Voicemails, WhatsApp messages and emails all asking the same thing:

“Ger Mac, any idea if it is going ahead this year?”

“Ger, will there be a start date issued soon or what’s the story?”

“Mr McCarthy, is it definitely going ahead again this year or what?”

“Ger, just letting you know we won’t have a team this year. (Five minutes later.) Just spoke to the lads and it turns out we will have a team now, maybe two. Would that be alright?”

“Ger, have you Super or Noel’s number?”

Without fail, every March and April between 2009 and 2019, the question has been the same. When will the SuperValu West Cork Masters League start?

Clonakilty Town’s Aidan Pendlebury has the distinction of netting the most recent West Cork Masters League goal. The Clonakilty player scored his side’s winner in a 1-0 Masters Cup final defeat of Castletown Celtic on July 31, 2019. A week before, Castletown rounded off a superb league campaign by overcoming Innishvilla 2-0 to lift the Masters League trophy on the same night Cloughduv Celtic edged Bantry Bay 3-2 after extra-time to become Masters Bowl champions.

That week, coming up on almost two years ago now, was the last time that any competitive West Cork Masters League action took place. 

FRUSTRATION

Unfortunately, Covid-19 ended any hope of the 2020 summer league, cup and bowl competitions taking place. For the first summer in over a decade, there was no Masters League soccer in West Cork.

And it looks doubtful that 2021’s equivalents will get the go-ahead.

That would be a massive pity for a set of 11-a-side outdoor soccer competitions first created to give West Cork League players — coming towards the end of their careers — something to do during the summer months.

The formation of the inaugural Masters (Over33s) soccer league, cup and shield competitions were announced in Clonakilty in May 2009. Ten years later, despite repeated rumours of its demise, Masters soccer is now firmly established in current and ex-WCL player calendars.

West Cork Masters League co-founders, Noel O'Donovan and Diarmuid 'Super' Keohane of Ardfield FC pictured with the 2009 Masters Cup trophy.
West Cork Masters League co-founders, Noel O'Donovan and Diarmuid 'Super' Keohane of Ardfield FC pictured with the 2009 Masters Cup trophy.

Diarmuid ‘Super’ Keohane and Noel O’Donovan, both former Ardfield AFC members, came up with the idea of a new competition to fill the void during summer until the West Cork League returned the following August. There was an appetite for the novel concept with the earlier success of an indoor Over35s League and Samba Cup competitions underlining how many former West Cork League players were still active throughout the region.

The fledgling league was initially targeted at the 35-plus age group but it was agreed after a series of meetings to drop the age limit to 33. The organisers hoped clubs would approach the tournament in a serious manner but that games would still be played in a friendly and fun environment.

The 2009 Masters League was contested by eight teams: Ardfield, Clonakilty Masters, Clonakilty Old Boys, Courtmacsherry, Dunmanway Town, Drinagh Rangers, Rosscarbery and Skibbereen. Sponsors were approached and within weeks of the inaugural season’s start, O’Briens Bar, Rosscarbery (league), Bernard Hayes Travel, Cork (Cup) and ‘A Cut Above’, Clonakilty (Shield) were on board. Clonakilty Old Boys became the region’s first Masters League champions, Ardfield lifted the Masters Cup and Dunmanway edged Skibbereen 1-0 to win the Masters Shield.

Although many believed summer soccer for Over-33s would not last long, the Masters defied the odds and returned each year for the next decade. Clubs came and went with Cloughduv Celtic’s arrival sparking a title-haul of five league trophies, three cups, two bowls and a shield. In recent times, the addition of Bandon, Bantry Bay Rovers, Bunratty United, Castlelack and Castletown Celtic helped swell the ranks to 10 teams in 2019.

A word too for the WCL referees who officiated fixtures and ensured the Masters stayed afloat.

The Echo’s press coverage of the competitions gave clubs, players and supporters an opportunity to read weekly match reports, round-ups and previews as the Masters’ popularity steadily grew.

Last year proved a longer summer than anyone could have ever imagined due to the pandemic that cancelled amateur sporting activities around the world. Unlike the SSE Airtricity League and FAI Underage Inter-Leagues, Irish amateur soccer is not deemed an elite sport under HSE and government guidelines. The return of intermediate and junior soccer will only follow a successful vaccination programme rollout and flattening of the number of covid-19 cases.

On top of that, the likelihood is that children’s and youth’s soccer will be reintroduced ahead of their adult counterparts. That means there won’t be a definitive restart date for intermediate or junior soccer anytime soon.

Yet, anyone who has played Masters soccer in the West Cork region over the past decade will tell you how much they enjoyed it and how it became a part of their summer.

Hope springs eternal, so anyone debating whether to hang up their boots and discontinue their playing careers beyond the West Cork League adult grades should remember a George Bernard Shaw quote. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

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