BY DENIS HURLEY
WHILE it won’t be as pivotal as their last Munster Junior League Division 1 meeting, Sunday’s clash between Clonakilty and Bandon at The Vale could have a big bearing on how the season pans out.
In March 1999, Bandon made the short journey west on the N71 and beat their hosts 17-8 to relegate them.
However, Clon were promoted back to the top flight at the first attempt – with Bandon travelling in the opposite direction – and continued their ascent over the following years, making it to Division 3 of the All-Ireland League.
Now back in the junior ranks, this season have found themselves in a relegation battle while Bandon are fighting with Clonmel for the title.
Sunday is Bandon’s third-last game with Clon having one more to play, so any points gained will be crucial to either objective.
With so much riding on it, the local-derby element doesn’t add much extra substance, according to Bandon coach Dan Murphy.
‘We’re focused on trying to challenge for the league and Clon are battling to avoid relegation, so just trying to get the points is enough of a motivation,’ he says.
‘There’ll be an edge, obviously, as it’s a local derby and it’s been so long, there’ll be a big crowd, but once the whistle goes you have to forget all of that.
‘Just because Clon are in a bit of trouble, it doesn’t make it any easier. We’re very wary of what they can do and they have a huge amount to play for.
‘These are three huge games we have left, they’re all of equal importance and they’re all like cup finals. We have to do everything in our power to win them and then see how Clonmel get on, they have a couple of tricky games coming up too.’
Bandon lie a point behind the leaders, having lost just two games all season – at home to Skibbereen in their opener and a 9-7 loss to Clonmel in January.
‘There’s a great bunch of lads there,’ Murphy says.
Some of them in their mid-to-late 20s, they were ploughing a lonely furrow for a good few years but the addition of some young fellas has helped them push on.
‘At the start of the season, you’d lay out your objectives and finishing in the top half would have been one of our main aims but you do have to just take it game by game – if you win your first three, you’re in the hunt but if you lose them then you’re in a relegation battle. A lot of the time, it can just come down to the bounce of a ball. We’ve bounced back since we lost to Clonmel, that was definitely a “bounce of the ball” day.’
Clon player-coach Dave Lombard’s only game against his neighbours was in 2007 when the club’s played to mark Bandon’s 125th anniversary.
‘There’ll be a big crowd, which is a good thing,’ he says.
‘Bandon are going well, so they’ll bring a large support you’d imagine. I suppose you’d be wishing that it wasn’t such an extreme circumstance with us at the other end of the table.’
Last week was a Munster Junior Cup week, allowing Clon a break before the denouement of the season, when they will play Bandon, Clonmel, relegation rivals St Mary’s and Richmond, who are third.
‘We have a few players back from injury, though we still have a couple out with long-term problems,’ Lombard says.
‘There’ll be other players available too, which is a bonus. We’ve trained hard and we’re hoping to be fresh. It’s a big four weeks, all important matches. It’s still in our own hands so we’ll be out to do our best.’