BY GER McCARTHY
SUNDAY’S Bantry Blues versus Bandon West Cork derby will decide who progresses to the last four of this year’s Cork premier intermediate football championship.
Dunmanway is the venue for this showdown between two local PIFC title contenders, but the current championship structure means both clubs, heading into their most important game of the year, have only played a handful of times since Easter.
The Blues’ path to the quarter-finals began with a four-point preliminary round win over Nemo Rangers prior to dispatching St Vincent’s by 3-11 to 1-16.
That victory was over five months ago however so any momentum gained has been all but lost before Sunday’s third championship outing.
‘It was April or May when we last played championship so we have basically used the summer months as down time before knuckling down to it again over the past few weeks,’ Bantry trainer Peter Murphy explained.
‘Things are going okay at the minute and it didn’t harm us too much having lads involved in our West Cork junior B hurling success. Winning is winning no matter what you are playing and enjoying a bit of championship success never harmed anyone. I don’t think it will have that much bearing on Sunday’s game though.’
Bantry and Bandon met in the 2017 Cork PIFC quarter-finals with the latter emerging as five-point winners before losing to eventual champions Mallow in the last four. Bantry and Murphy are expecting a similarly tight encounter in Dunmanway.
‘We were very disappointed with our performance that day and Bandon deserved to win that day,’ Murphy commented.
‘We will be looking for a vastly-improved display and better collective effort this weekend. I don’t think there will be much in it. Two closely matched teams in a derby means you will be looking for the rub of the green and that the majority of your players perform to get you over the line.’
As for Bandon, they began their PIFC odyssey at the beginning of April, easily defeating Newmarket before waiting a full four months to face Nemo. A 1-16 to 1-14 triumph over the Trabeg outfit was achieved at the end of August making Sunday’s West Cork derby nothing more than a 50-50 game in the eyes of Bandon manager David O’Donovan.
‘We knew the permutations might throw up a meeting with Bantry when the draw was made,’ O’Donovan stated.
‘Obviously, we had to get over Nemo first but now both teams are looking at this game the same way in that it is a stepping stone to a county semi-final. For neutrals, a derby between two big West Cork towns will only add to the occasion.
‘Getting over Nemo in the previous round was massive for us. We have a huge amount of players involved in both codes and the hurlers were very disappointed after losing to Carrigtwohill. We were delighted to get over Nemo considering we were missing so many players and the fact we hadn’t played since early April.
‘All clubs are in the same boat when it comes to the PIFC and all you can do is prepare as best you can. We have had a full three weeks to prepare for Bantry since the last day out so all our focus has been on football and seen a gradual improvement heading into the quarter-finals.’
Quarter-finalists in 2018, semi-finalists in 2017 and IFC champions in 2016, a battle-hardened Bandon have been knocking on the door of county football success in recent times. Going that one extra step and joining the senior ranks remains an achievable target provided the Lilywhites can recapture the form that delivered county junior and intermediate trophies within the last five years.
‘I would say the PIFC is the best and most competitive of all the Cork county championship competitions,’ O’Donovan commented.
‘Nine or ten teams were probably harbouring county championship ambitions when the draw was made last December. That amount of clubs would fancy winning it and we would be no different. We are just taking things one game at a time right now but recognise the huge challenge that Bantry will pose. No one in the Bandon camp is looking beyond this game right now.’