It was a good opening round for West Cork clubs in the county senior football championship with Ilen Rovers’ surprise win over Carbery Rangers the pick of the results. While they’re unlikely to be in the mix at the business end this was a much-needed boost for Ilen as KIERAN McCARTHY explains
THE seeds for Ilen Rovers’ shock 2-9 to 1-9 win over Carbery Rangers were sown last September.
After defeats to Ballincollig and Carrigaline in the 2018 Cork SFC, Ilen found themselves in a relegation play-off against Aghada. Ilen had already been relegated from Division 2 of the county league by then.
As this was before the revamped Cork SFC structure was unveiled recently, Ilen knew that defeat to Aghada wouldn’t relegate them from the senior championship but it would have left them under pressure ahead of the 2019 campaign.
Ilen responded. They won 2-16 to 1-11. It was a positive end to the year and an encouraging performance. There was something to build on.
‘We prepared well for Aghada and we played well. We took that positivity forward into the winter,’ Ilen manager Flor O’Driscoll says.
‘Last year didn’t go so well for lots of reasons. Our panel got squeezed. It might have looked bad from the outside but there were a lot of genuine reasons why people weren’t available and we knew that it was going to be a difficult year.
‘Then later in the year when people were back from the States and various places we did regroup and we did play really well against Aghada in the relegation game.’
Ilen sat down in December. Everyone gave a commitment for 2019. Everyone has stuck to that commitment. There was momentum after the Aghada win and the club was determined not to miss the chance to ride on the wave for as long as they can.
‘We are better organised this year. We have a plan that the group bought into and everyone has worked really hard. It’s been a combination of things but we did get good momentum at the end of last season that we have built on this year and kept going,’ O’Driscoll says.
Ilen won’t win the senior football championship. The victory against Carbery Rangers was their first round one win since 2013. Getting to the last eight would represent success and improvement. Expectations of this team outside of the Ilen camp aren’t high.
And they will still be regarded as one of the better draws to get in round three.
But Ilen are focussing on themselves and have their own targets.
Different teams have different goals. Carbery Rangers want to win the county championship. Ilen want to go on a run and get a few games under their belt.
So, while it might only be a first-round game and while there is a back-door route, this was an important result for Ilen. It shows that hard work has rewards.
They went into their SFC opener after winning three Division 3 games in a row – against Bishopstown, Dohenys and St Vincent’s. To put that in perspective they won one game in ten in Division 2 last season.
As O’Driscoll says, they are better organised this year. There’s been more planning. Johnny Holland and Brendan Duggan joined the backroom team that already includes Sean Collins and Donal O’Driscoll, with Duggan taking a lot of the coaching duties. Kerryman Mick Doyle also came on board in the last few weeks to give an extra hand with coaching and add a new voice.
The win, even if it’s the first round, is also a boost for the club. It helps keep numbers high at training. Flor O’Driscoll commented after the game how they struggled to get ten to training last year but they’ve 30 at training this year. That’s progress. And a win against one of the best teams in the county championship over the last decade will help the mood.
‘We haven’t had long runs in the championship and when you don’t, you don’t get the time to develop and build,’ O’Driscoll explains.
‘That is a goal for us, that we have to go well into a season and give ourselves the chance to build out a core of a team. We have a lot of younger fellas who will benefit from that.
‘If you look over the years our biggest challenge is that as players are coming through maybe older fellas are going off prematurely – it could be through work commitments or fellas going travelling. I think that’s the main reason that we haven’t been able to build as we haven’t been able to hold on to that core.
‘If you look at Carbery Rangers, as an example, they have always been able to keep their senior core. We have struggled a little bit because of circumstances.’
Missing against Carbery Rangers were Kevin O’Sullivan, David Coughlan and Alan Holland as well as the long-term absentee Stephen Leonard, who is on the comeback trail after serious ankle troubles that have kept him sidelined since last summer. Leonard will be a huge addition to the Ilen attack when he’s back. Sensibly, he’s not being rushed.
Tim O’Regan will be another big addition when he comes back on board, like he was last season, while Michael Hellen will also provide another option.
While Ilen still have the experience of Conor O’Driscoll (superb against Carbery Rangers), Paddy Minihane (another long-time servant) and Damien O’Sullivan (outfield player turned goalkeeper) driving them on, the younger guard are also getting their chance.
Last year youth was giving its chance. It’s the same this season. From the Ilen team that won the 2018 Carbery U21A title, six started against Ross (Sean Minihane, Tom Bushe, Jack Collins, Peter O’Driscoll, Dermot Hegarty and Donal Collins), and two more (Joseph Hickey and Aaron O’Sullivan) came on as subs. Leonard would have started too if fit.
‘Last year when we played Carrigaline there were six players who started who were 19 or younger. That’s one third of the team. There were five young fellas against Aghada and one came on as a sub. It’s important to have a good core of older and younger, having the right balance and getting it to work together,’ Flor O’Driscoll says.
Ilen want to develop a team that will stay together for seasons to come. Beating Carbery Rangers is a fillip at the right time, given the effort being put in. But it’s just one step in the right direction.
‘It (beating Ross) will help depending on how we react from it,’ O’Driscoll says.
‘When we go back training we have to drive on.
We played well. We played good controlled football against a really good team but we still have to get better.
‘If we want to go further in the championship then we need to get better. Our mind-set has to be to improve.
‘When you win a first round game and you beat a team of the calibre of Carbery Rangers it should stand to you, you should be able to build on it, take confidence from it and learn from it.
‘But it’s all about how you react so we need to react the right way and build on it.’
Given the new structure to the Cork SFC for 2020, and that the top 12 clubs will compete in the top tier, Ilen are making their move at the right time.
There’s a lot of football to be played and any championship run will hinge a lot on the draw for the next round, but credit to Ilen for getting their house in order. The truth is the hard work starts now. Beating a team like Carbery Rangers once is one thing but to make progress they need to repeat it.