FORMER Cork City striker Connor Ellis led the West Cork Schoolboys and Schoolgirls League to an SFAI Kennedy Trophy final appearance at the University of Limerick in 2010.
Ellis made his name as one of the best strikers to ever emerge from the West Cork region thanks to an unerring ability to find the net. Coached from a young age at Kealkill-based Bantry Bay Rovers, Ellis topped his club’s goal-scoring charts throughout a devastating period during the mid-2000s before signing for Cork City’s U19s in October 2013.
The former Bay Rovers striker made a big impression at Turner’s Cross before going out on loan to Cobh Ramblers and netting five goals in 12 senior appearances. Ellis found it hard to break into the first team on his return from that loan period however, yet managed to find the net five times during Cork City’s double-winning 2017 campaign.
Ellis finished an injury-ravaged career at Limerick but remains one of the WCSL’s finest exports having been capped by the Republic of Ireland at U15, U17, U18, Schools and U19 level.
Yet, back in the summer of 2010, the Kennedy Cup is all that was on a young Connor Ellis’s mind as the Bay Rovers striker represented his region at the SFAI’s most prestigious schoolboys inter-league tournament.
West Cork were handed the toughest of assignments in Group 5 of the opening phase. The previous summer, despite back-to-back victories over Carlow and Kilkenny, West Cork had finished 25th overall. That meant a lower seeding for the following year’s annual trip to the University of Limerick.
Waterford (second overall) were the highest-ranked team in West Cork’s opening group and regarded as a side with a serious chance of challenging for that year’s Kennedy Cup trophy. The draw didn’t get any easier for a rural squad under the tutelage of Conor Uhl, Steve Ellis and Martin Henwood.
South Tipperary and the North Eastern Counties (NEC) were next out of the hat to complete the Group 5 line-up. South Tipp were enjoying a rich vein of Kennedy Cup form during that period as evidenced by their ranking as the ninth-best team out of 32 attending that summer’s tournament.
Yet, a talented West Cork squad travelled to Limerick in good form and hoping to cause a shock or two. The WCSSL had every reason to be confident considering the quality of the players on their team bus.
Bay added the SuperValu U14 Shield for good measure. Connor Ellis was coming off a terrific year as Rovers’ top goal-scorer in the U12 ranks. The young striker scored both goals as Bay defeated Lyre Rovers 2-0 to clinch the title and finish with an unblemished league record after 14 games. Bay U12 also reached the third round of the SFAI National Cup before being knocked out 3-1 by Ballybridge United.
Skibbereen proved U14 Premier League champions Bay Rovers’ toughest challengers and finished a creditable second in the final standings. As a result, the Baltimore Road club’s Michael Hurley, Sean O’Donovan and Greg O’Sullivan earned deserved Kennedy Cup call-ups. The same was true for Togher Celtic’s most consistent player that year, Shane Crowley. Damien O’Gorman and Ben Van Bree were two of Lyre Rovers’ most prominent performers and helped their club to third-place U14 league finish and U14 Shield semi-final berth.
Clonakilty Town and Dunmanway Town formed the backbone of the WCSSL squad. Four players from each club made the trip to UL including SuperValu U14 Cup winners Cian O’Donovan, Jack Hurley, Mark Crowley and Josh Henry from Clonakilty Town. They needed extra time to see off Drinagh Rangers 3-2 following a thrilling cup decider in which Josh Henry was amongst the goals.
Jack O’Connor, Eoin Lavers, Johnny Kelly and Tom Murphy would all feature as future Dunmanway Town West Cork League (adult) winners. Brothers Christopher and Richard Moynihan from Bunratty United added steel to an inter-league side eager to get off to the best possible start.
Alas, West Cork failed to register a point during a tough opening group but could at least console themselves having produced battling displays against Waterford, South Tipp and the NEC. In fact, the WCSSL were unfortunate not to take at least a point against hot favourites Waterford and disappointed to succumb to a 1-0 defeat.
West Cork rebounded superbly during the final two days of the competition and demonstrated admirable resolve to see off Clare and Kildare in consecutive penalty shoot-out triumphs. A Kennedy Trophy final appearance against Mayo was ample reward for a determined squad.
Alas, there would be no fairy-tale ending as the Connacht side registered a 3-1 victory. Yet, the West Cork Schoolboys and Schoolgirls League class of 2010 did their region, management team, clubs, parents and supporters proud to come within a whisker of winning a trophy during their summer visit to the University of Limerick.
Michael Casey (Bantry Bay Rovers), Connor Ellis (Bantry Bay Rovers), Cian O’Donovan (Clonakilty Town), Jack Hurley (Clonakilty Town), Mark Crowley (Clonakilty Town), Josh Henry (Clonakilty Town), Jack O’Connor (Dunmanway Town), Eoin Lavers (Dunmanway Town), Johnny Kelly (Dunmanway Town), Tom Murphy (Dunmanway Town), Shane Crowley (Togher Celtic), Damien O’Gorman (Lyre Rovers), Ben Van Bree (Lyre Rovers), Michael Hurley (Skibbereen), Sean O’Donovan (Skibbereen), Greg O’Sullivan (Skibbereen), Christopher Moynihan (Bunratty United) and Richard Moynihan (Bunratty United).
West Cork 0 Waterford 1, South Tipperary 2 West Cork 0, North East Counties 1 West Cork 0.
Clare 1 West Cork 1 (West Cork won 3-1 on penalties).
West Cork 0 Kildare 0 (West Cork won 4-3 on penalties).
Mayo 3 West Cork 1.