BANDON AFC’s senior men’s team had a season to remember and manager Richard Holland is optimistic that they can build on their success in 2019-20.
After successive relegations left them in the second division of the Munster Senior League at the beginning of 2017-18, Holland’s first season in charge, Bandon finished in third place, just missing out of promotion. However, a young side was able to take the extra step in the season just gone, finishing two points behind champions Ballinhassig but nine clear of third-placed Fermoy.
Holland is a busy man, employed as a full-time coach at the FAI academy in Mahon and also assisting Colin Healy with the Cork City U19s, but he’s more than happy to give his time to his native club too. He felt that they learned the lessons of the previous season in achieving promotion.
‘I took over after back-to-back relegations and the group was low on confidence,’ he says.
‘What I tried to do was incorporate things I had learned with Cork City. Obviously it’s a different level but the key thing is to be doing a lot of work with the football, bringing back a fun element to it.
‘After the relegations, some of the older guard had hung up their boots so there was a big turnover of players and we brought through a lot of younger lads, but they did really well.
‘They learned a lot from the first season, a young team might be a bit naïve in terms of seeing out games and that. As a coach, you want to team to play, but at amateur level you have to have a bit of know-how too and they definitely improved in that aspect.’
Despite good results, Bandon found themselves losing ground on the leaders as a combination of the poor weather and a good FAI Intermediate Cup run – reaching the last 32, losing to Glebe North of Dublin – meant they only played once in the league between January 19th and March 23rd.
However, the backlog wasn’t an impediment and they won all six league games they played in March, earning the MSL Team of the Month Award.
‘At one point, we were 15 points behind Ballinhassig, just because we had so many games in hand,’ Holland says.
‘People were expecting us to drop points because it’s so hard when you’re playing every couple of days – over Easter, we played Riverstown on the Thursday, Fermoy on the Sunday and then Youghal on Tuesday, but we kept grinding out the results.
‘We were actually the first team promoted and we had a chance to beat Ballinhassig in the second-last match to go up as champions but all the games caught up with us and they were the better team on the night. We just went to the well one time too many.
‘The run really showed the strength we have though, and we had to call on players from the junior team too. It was a real squad effort, we were backs to the wall at the end of some of those games and you had to watch the training load.
‘To be awarded team of the month speaks volumes.’
Now, with the first division to be negotiated, Holland – who is assisted by DJ O’Driscoll, Darren Crowley, Eoin McSweeney, Brian McSweeney and junior manager Eddie Andepu – is looking forward to the challenge.
‘We have a young team but there are still one or two in their 30s and there’s a real feelgood factor,’ he says.
‘Next year is the club’s 50th anniversary, so it’s big for the club off the pitch, too. I’d hope to keep the squad together and maybe bring in one or two.
‘We’ve already played a lot of the teams that we’ll be up against and we’ve been able to compete with them, so I’d feel that we can go up and hold our own. Obviously, you need the rub of the green if you’re going to challenge and a good start is a huge help in terms of momentum.’
They will certainly bring momentum up with them and the good vibes around the club were visible at the recent awards night, with former Ireland midfielder Andy Reid as the guest of honour.
‘It was a great night,’ Holland says, ‘things are really on the up, especially with the junior team and the youths sides competing too.
‘The Munster Arms was packed for the awards and Andy Reid was excellent, he presented awards from U7s all the way up to the seniors. That’s a big thing in the club, that all of the teams would have the same awards night.’
And of course, Bandon will be celebrating having a former player in the Premier League next season after Conor Hourihane’s promotion with Aston Villa.
‘Conor has always been great to the club,’ Holland says, ‘he’d probably have been at the awards only for the play-offs.
‘He’s never forgotten his roots and he was one of the first to text when we got promoted.’