Junior county glory in 2001 drove Ilen Rovers footballers to new heights

After winning a first Carbery crown in 1996, the West Cork club progressed up the ranks to senior
Junior county glory in 2001 drove Ilen Rovers footballers to new heights

Ilen Rovers' Brian O'Sullivan strikes the ball to score a goal against Castlehaven at Skibbereen. Picture: Gavin Browne

NEARLY 20 years have elapsed since Ilen Rovers captured their first county title when they defeated Kinsale by seven points in the 2001 junior A football final.

Ilen Rovers were clinical that day in Charlie Hurley Park, Bandon,  captained by talented forward, Brian O’Sullivan. “The years are flying by, unfortunately,” O’Sullivan said. “That was a great period of success for the club. We were competing regularly for championship honours, initially in West Cork. That county final win was a huge moment for the club. It was a breakthrough result for the club.”

Ilen Rovers, who were founded in 1973, captured their first SW junior A championship title in 1996. This divisional championship win ushered in a great period of success for the club.

“We had been knocking on the door for a few years,” O’Sullivan said. “We then won four divisional titles in six years. We suffered a number of tough defeats in the county series.

We were defeated in the quarter-final, semi-final, and a final. You then have to regroup and start back at the beginning, once more. West Cork was a very tough championship to win.

“There were a lot of very strong teams competing for divisional glory. That season alone, we had to overcome Gabriel Rangers, Carbery Rangers, Tadhg MacCarthaigh, and St Colum’s to win the Carbery division. We then had to beat Grenagh, Cloyne, and Kinsale to win the county title. It was a huge relief to beat Kinsale and move up the ranks.”

Ilen Rovers full-forward Brian O'Sullivan racing goalwards past Carbery Rangers' Jeremy Murphy in the 2000 West Cork final. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Ilen Rovers full-forward Brian O'Sullivan racing goalwards past Carbery Rangers' Jeremy Murphy in the 2000 West Cork final. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Ilen Rovers were guided to county final glory in 2001 by a management team of Tom Dorgan and the Evans brothers, Anthony and David.

“We brought in our first outside coach in 2001, in Tom Dorgan, who came from Ballincollig. He was assisted by David and Anthony Evans,” O’Sullivan said.

“There was a great energy to training, as everyone was out to prove themselves. 2001 was a huge year. We had suffered huge disappointment prior to that season.

“We were determined to progress and we all felt that if we moved up the grades, we had the talent to compete. As it turned out, it was as a springboard to winning the intermediate county and All-Ireland title. The nucleus of the team was also involved when we reached the senior county final in 2007.”

PERFECT BLEND

The 2001 county-winning team contained a nice mix of youth and experience. A number of the Ilen Rovers players had inter-county experience at various levels, while they also supplied a number of players to the Carbery senior football team.

“The age profile of our team in 2001 was perfect,” O’Sullivan said. “We had some great leaders and good experienced guys, like Jason Whooley, Chris Collins, Fachtna Collins, Flor O’Driscoll, and Pat Connolly. There were also a lot of young players, such as Kieran Daly, the Duggan brothers, the Sheehy brothers, John Wycherley, and Gary Coakley.

Fachtna Collins, Ilen Rovers, fields the ball against Kinsale. Picture: Maurice O'Mahony
Fachtna Collins, Ilen Rovers, fields the ball against Kinsale. Picture: Maurice O'Mahony

“We also had some very talented young players coming through, such as my brother, Kevin, Shane Holland, Sean Casey, Davin Whooley, Brendan Duggan, and Gavin Barry. We had a nice blend.

“We had a very big and talented squad,” O’Sullivan said. “There was lots of competition for places, which ensured everyone trained hard and worked for their starting place. 

We also played nice direct football, which was perfect for the forwards.”

O’Sullivan played a captain’s part throughout the season. He linked up brilliantly in the full-forward line with his younger brother, Kevin, as the two of them played key roles in helping Ilen secure the county final title for the first time in their history.

O’Sullivan also scored four points in the final, with three from play.

“It was a great honour to be captain,” O’Sullivan said. “It was made easier by having many top-quality players who wanted to achieve success. There was a huge hunger in that group to do everything necessary to win the county final that year.

“The experience and confidence we gained from the previous years also helped, while I think the hurt we experienced in those tough defeats helped. It galvanised us to perform to our best throughout that season. It was a proud moment to lift the title. It was a great end to the season.”

Ilen Rovers' Brian O'Sullivan gets away from Clonakilty's Nigel Hayes. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ilen Rovers' Brian O'Sullivan gets away from Clonakilty's Nigel Hayes. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

O’Sullivan continued to play a key role in the following years for his beloved Ilen Rovers. He was a crucial player in their intermediate county and All-Ireland success, while he also played a huge part in helping Ilen Rovers reach the senior county final in 2007.

“I was fortunate to have played in a very successful era,” O’Sullivan said. “We had some great players. It was a great experience to play with them. The main memories involve some of the memorable matches we played in. I also recall the great fun in the dressing room and at training sessions.

“We were a very close panel and it was a great era. We had some great characters in our panel and we had a lot of laughs along the way. It was great to be a part of that special team.”

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