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Champs Drinagh have ground to make up in Premier title race

February 10th, 2024 10:00 AM

By Ger McCarthy

The Drinagh Rangers team celebrates after defeating Bunratty United to win the 2023 WCL Premier Division.

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DRINAGH Rangers face an enormous challenge in attempting to hold on to their West Cork League Premier Division title.

A club more accustomed to fighting it out at the Premier’s summit finds itself in the unfamiliar surroundings of mid-table. 

Champions for the past three seasons, Drinagh’s early-season involvement in multiple cup competitions – and last weekend’s abandoned local derby with Dunmanway Town – means the title holders are 15 points behind current leaders Clonakilty Soccer Club.

Granted, the Canon Crowley Park side possess four games in hand but there can be no denying that this is new territory for manager Danny McQueen and his players. In his first year as Rangers’ senior manager, McQueen admits he would prefer to be the hunted rather than the hunter. 

‘Our experienced players will be a factor alright but you can only play one game at a time,’ McQueen told The Southern Star. ‘I keep saying that even though I’d rather be in Clonakilty’s shoes and way ahead at the moment. We can only take it one game at a time and see where that takes us.’

Indeed, a long-term investment in Drinagh’s academy structure could yet reap dividends this season and beyond. The club’s decision to field a second team in the WCL Championship has helped bring through a new generation of senior starters. Nowadays, Danny McQueen’s line-up regularly includes his sons Robbie and Tom, Mark Grace, Jack Payne-Murphy and Ciarán O’Regan. 

‘All those younger players are a year older and bedded into the first team now at this stage,’ McQueen stated. 

‘Mark Grace, Sean Calnan and Owen Tobin are helping with the mix of youth and experience. I’m an advocate of saying if you are good enough then you are old enough. There are young players who will benefit from playing in our B team, I’ve no doubt about that.

‘A couple of fellas have gone straight into the first team too but playing in our B team and getting used to adult football in the WCL Championship is hugely important.’

The big league games will keep coming over the next couple of months. Rangers also have an important Beamish Cup quarter-final tie away to Sullane on Sunday, too.

‘We have not done as well as we would like to have done in the Beamish Cup over recent years,’ McQueen said.

‘Look, there are some big teams out of it already. Dunmanway Town, Bunratty United and Togher Celtic have all been knocked out.  Sullane will be all out to beat us on their home pitch – that’s our next game and our only focus for now.’

Returning to league matters, Drinagh’s record of five wins, a draw and solitary loss (to Bunratty) makes for healthy viewing despite the gap to the Premier Division pacesetters.  Clonakilty Soccer Club’s tenth win in 11 outings has the Darrara-based club out in front ahead of Togher, Bunratty and the aforementioned Sullane. A fresh look to the top half of the West Cork League’s Premier Division is no bad thing but make no mistake, Drinagh are coming for their title.  

‘There are some very talented teams playing in the West Cork League right now,’ McQueen added.

‘Bunratty United always play good football. Dunmanway do as well. Sullane, I was very impressed with them in the two games we played this year. They are a youthful side who like to play a fast game. Clonakilty Soccer Club are another very good side who knock the ball around and play a different system. There is a good mix of quality teams in this year’s Premier Division and it is going to be a big challenge for us, no doubt about it.’

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