2021 was an intriguing year for West Cork clubs in the Bon Secours Cork Premier SFC.
Here I review each of the Carbery division’s representatives and assess their chances for the coming year.
It is fair to say that west Cork clubs enjoyed contrasting fortunes in the top grade of the Cork GAA club football over the past 12 months.
From the highs of Clonakilty and Castlehaven pushing eventual county champions St Finbarr’s to the limit and the lows of Ilen Rovers bowing out of the top grade, there were captivating storylines everywhere you looked.
Seeded ninth, Clonakilty, reaching a county final proved as unexpected as coming within a whisker of beating the Barr’s in a terrific end-to-end decider.
Emerging in second place behind the eventual county champions and ahead of Ballincollig and Ilen Rovers in their qualifying group, Clonakilty achieved their pre-season goal of reaching the knockout stages.
A 1-10 to 0-12 group win over Ballincollig proved a turning point in Newcestown.
The latter had defeated Clon at the same juncture the previous year but a Sean White goal and late Dara Ó Sé winning point secured the Brewery Town’s runners-up spot.
From there, a hard-earned win over Duhallow in the last-eight preceded a one-point victory over Douglas in the county semi-finals.
The Barr’s outlasted Mike Haulie O’Neill’s side in the decider, 0-14 to 0-13. In Sean McEvoy, Ross Mannix, Eoghan Deasy, Liam O’Donovan, Maurice Shanley, David Lowney, Mark and Sean White plus Tom Clancy, Clonakilty possess enough raw talent to have another crack off the PSFC championship in 2022.
Even more importantly, the lift the west Cork club has given their underage structure will be felt for many years.
“This is about Clonakilty GAA, this is about the club, it is about the small boys and girls down here in front of me who are members of the same club,” Clonakilty manager Haulie O’Neill told the club’s supporters the night of their county final loss.
“We all represent the same club.
What we hope will come from the few games we played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh is the inspiration for our young players to dream and to dream big.
“We want you to want to wear that red and green jersey.”
Castlehaven ended the year having lost to Nemo Rangers in the rearranged 2020 county decider and heartbreakingly bowing out on penalties to the Barrs in this season’s semi-finals.
James McCarthy’s side deserves immense credit for picking themselves up from that Nemo defeat and emerging with maximum points from a qualification group that contained Éire Óg, Newcestown and Carbery Rangers.
A workmanlike 1-14 to 0-10 win over Valley Rovers setup a semi-final meeting with the Barrs for the second year in a row.
It turns out lightning does strike twice, as two of the PSFC grade’s heavyweights couldn’t be separated following a Páirc Uí Chaoimh epic. Last year, Castlehaven outlasted the Togher club to reach the county decider on spot-kicks.
This time around, following a 3-16 to 1-16 draw after extra-time, it was Barr’s goalkeeper John Kerin’s save and winning penalty that sent St. Finbarr’s through.
Brian Hurley finished the championship with 3-29 and looked backed to his marauding best. Add in some of Mark Collins, Michael Hurley and Damien Cahalane’s most consistent performances in a blue and white hooped jersey and there is no reason Castlehaven cannot challenge once again in 2022.
Elsewhere, west Cork clubs did not fare as positively. Newcestown entered the PSFC as the fourth-highest ranked club following a consistent run in previous years.
The dual senior club produced a battling display in losing out to Castlehaven before edging Carbery Rangers by a point.
Alas, a 0-11 to 1-11 loss at the hands of newcomers Éire Óg prevented Newcestown from advancing. Richard O’Sullivan was a consistent scorer throughout the year and the west Cork side will hope for an improved showing over the next 12 months.
It was a case of what might have been for Carbery Rangers who suffered a disappointing year, losing narrowly to Newcestown, Éire Óg and Castlehaven.
Rangers proved more than a match for all three opponents, especially against the Haven in their final group outing at Kilmacabea.
It took a Mark Collins injury-time winner to see off a Carbery Rangers side that made good progress under Declan Hayes but know they need to turn gutsy performances into victories next year.
The season proved a disappointing one for Ilen Rovers. Having defeated Bishopstown in the previous year’s relegation play-off, this time around, Rovers were not as fortunate.
Defeats to the Barrs, Clon and Ballincollig resulted in a second consecutive play-off for Ilen to retain their PSFC status.
Disappointingly, an injury-time Callum Barrett goal earned Carrigaline a 1-10 to 0-10 victory and sent Rovers down to the Senior A grade. Encouragingly, manager Jason Whooley has plenty of talent to work with in 2022.
Ilen will start as one of the favourites to gain promotion from the SAFC with Peter O’Driscoll, Sean O’Donovan, Dan Mac Eoin, Stephen Leonard and Sean Minihane to call upon.
Despite a huge amount of preparation, the Carbery divisional football team was defeated 0-16 to 0-6 by Muskerry in the second round of the colleges and divisions section.
A panel made up of Barryroe, St. Mary’s, St Colum’s, Tadhg Mac Carthaigh, Kilmeen, Gabriel Rangers and Ballinascarthy players toiled hard but were overpowered by a Muskerry side in which Mark Healy top-scored with five points.