CARBERY footballers’ elimination from this year’s Cork Premier SFC Divisions/Colleges section – at the hands of Muskerry who won 0-16 to 0-6 last week – kick-started plenty of soul-searching from management, players and supporters. Ger McCarthy caught up with Carbery manager Tim Buckley to find out if the West Cork division has a future in the county’s top grade.
GER MCCARTHY (GMC): As disappointing as the result was against Muskerry, what’s clear is that a large number of Carbery’s club players want to represent their division. But not every West Cork club is willing to allow their players to tog out though. So, does Carbery have a realistic and competitive future?
TIM BUCKLEY (TB): It is realistic when you consider the calibre of footballers available to our division. There an awful lot of mitigating factors like the time of year the divisions/colleges section is played. We are knee-deep in players being committed to their inter-county panels and their clubs. So, despite all the preparation work you put in over six or eight months, things can boil down to the Thursday night before a game to see who is actually available to play.
We started that Muskerry match without 13 players who had made themselves available for selection. Outside of those 13, there is another group of players that don’t make themselves available to Carbery. I’d split that second group into two, the first being those who decide to play for their college, which I think is wrong. The other group then just can’t seem to fit Carbery into their schedule.
GMC: Can you expand on that as you are talking about a large group of potentially game-changing Carbery players who, for a myriad of reasons, are choosing not to tog out for the division? What can be done to accommodate them?
TB: Well, for a start, I think the county board could postpone the junior football leagues or just prioritise one or the other (Premier SFC divisions/colleges). That would allow us to talk to likes of the Robbie Kielys (Barryroe) and Damien Gores (Kilmacabea) who currently have enough on their plates. That might make it more attractive for them to play for Carbery. The most important thing is making enough time and space for the divisions/colleges section. Our entire full-back line was injured for the Muskerry game the last night. Having said that, we still felt confident with the 26 players that togged out that we had enough to win. You are always going to microscope things when you lose but that is the nature of divisional football.
GMC: Preparation-wise, you and your management team couldn’t have worked any harder. The Carbery Board back you, financially, and you were properly prepared. It is obvious that off-field support is there but let’s be honest here, is the reality that divisional football is in danger of becoming extinct?
TB: I believe the county board has placed us (divisions) in a category which is not impacting on their own programme. I’ve spoken to the other divisional manager like Ger McCarthy (Muskerry) and Pádraig Kearns (Duhallow) and we would be happy to run our own mini-competition without impacting on anyone else.
For me and those other managers, there are too many positives, that far outweigh the negatives, for having a divisional football section. This is a gateway for Cork inter-county senior, junior and U20 management to see these players competing collectively at a reasonably higher standard than they would if they went out to see them play for their club.
Objectively, I see the divisions/colleges continuing to have a role to play but only one of them will enter the county quarter-finals next September. They don’t always win it but that allows them to compete against the best. To me, if divisions/colleges were coming out every year and getting hammered at that point, I’d be saying, no, you are better off having a club team in there. It was very competitive last year. Fair enough, UCC beat us but then they went on and should have beaten Duhallow. They would tell you that it was a result of that win that their performance levels rose and Duhallow went on to beat Valley Rovers to get to a county semi-final.
GMC: I take your point that there is enough time to organise and prepare a division the right way. The Carbery football (and hurling) jersey still means an awful lot to a huge amount of people in West Cork as it should. What would you say to those players wavering, that don’t have the time to represent Carbery at Cork PSFC level?
TB: There are lots of reasons but the first one is loyalty. Carbery has provided me with a football platform for the last 40 years. For me, it is incumbent on everyone that has an interest in Gaelic football and an interest in promoting it in West Cork that our division plays at the highest possible grade it can play at. In my opinion, that is Premier Senior football.
The second one is ambition. Playing in the divisions/colleges section is a shop window for players. Fellas might have inter-county and colleges but this is another important shop window to show selectors and everybody else they can play. The further Carbery goes in the Cork PSFC, the more chances they get to be seen.
A third reason and probably the most fundamental one is that there is enough talent within Carbery to put the team in a position to challenge for top honours. I’m convinced of that. Maybe we have to start thinking out side the box when it comes to players representing their division. Have we ever considered offering bursaries to our college students?
I’ll be putting a report together with my management team and submitting it to the board in early August. Without any caveat, and not suggesting the same management team will be back, this will be a list of observations from inside our camp this year. It will be a blueprint for how Carbery can put out a serious senior football team in next year’s championship.