BUNRATTY United’s coronation as 2017-18 West Cork League O’BrienWaterServices.com Division 1 champions owed much to a balanced squad and the dedicated work of club stalwart Martin Briscoe.
Involved with the Schull-based side since their creation over 30 years ago, Briscoe along with junior team manager Dan McSweeney guided a squad containing experienced players and U18 graduates back to the Premier Division at the first time of asking.
‘I was there back in 1987, when a group of us first got together in the Bunratty Inn and Bunratty United football club was formed,’ Briscoe explained.
‘From there, the club quickly grew from strength to strength and developed an underage structure which has helped keep things going over the past 30 years. I’ve been involved in every capacity within the club during that time, be it as a manager or whatever committee role needed filling.
‘At times, it has been quite difficult to keep everything going. From the outside looking in, being involved in a football club can seem quite an easy thing but you are left to the rights and wrongs of what you decide. Everyone else can give their opinion and say what they think should happen but as a manager or assistant manager you are left with the consequences of your decisions and have to get on with it, right or not.’
Bunratty United’s 2016-17 campaign ended in misery with relegation from the West Cork League Premier Division having finished bottom of the table on a paltry total of five points. GAA commitments meant Bunratty fielded a weakened line-up for almost the entire campaign before eventually dropping down a division.
Yet, Dan McSweeney’s decision to assume the manager’s role alongside Briscoe helped pave the way for United’s immediate return to the top flight. Utilising the experience gained from the previous season, Bunratty’s young stars and some experienced signings got the Schull club off to the best possible start.
An early statement of intent saw United crush Durrus 7-1 on the opening weekend of the season before travelling to the same opponents and registering a 4-1 triumph at the Community field. A tough assignment away to Crookstown saw Bunratty edge a tight encounter 1-0 prior to fourth consecutive league victory, winning 5-0 at home to Bantry Bay Rovers.
Mizen AFC (4-0) and Skibbereen (8-1) were brushed aside before Bunratty tasted their only league defeat to date, a 3-1 reversal at home to Crookstown on November 26th. That loss preceded Bunratty United’s two most important league games, home and away to title-rivals Clonakilty Town.
‘Well, we got off to a fantastic start, winning all our games before coming up against probably our biggest rivals for the league in Clonakilty Town,’ Briscoe commented.
‘We drew 1-1 with them at home at the start of December but then we went to Darrara two weeks later and won 3-0. Those results put us ahead of Clon and top of the table for the first time all season.
From that moment on it was a case of just telling the players to keep doing what they had been doing all along and stay out in front.’
A 5-2 thumping of Skibbereen on St Stephen’s Day maintained Bunratty’s stranglehold of the division until deteriorating weather meant it would be a two full months before United took to the field once again. Following multiple postponements, Bunratty’s penultimate league fixture away to Bantry Bay Rovers didn’t take place until last weekend where a 2-1 victory was enough to clinch the Division 1 trophy.
‘Obviously the weather was one of the biggest issues we and every other team faced in the West Cork League which is why it was such a relief to finally clinch the title a fortnight ago,’ Martin Briscoe admitted.
‘We had been waiting for weeks and weeks and it was incredibly frustrating because we were just looking for one point which meant we could no longer be caught (in first place). So it was a great feeling of relief more than anything else to travel to Bay Rovers, win the game and become champions.’
‘It is a fantastic feeling for players, managers and supporters to have won the Division 1 League,’ admitted the dedicated Bunratty United clubman.
‘At the start the season, the primary aim was to try and get back into the Premier Division. Last year was an extremely difficult one for we lost the majority of our players to the GAA. That actually stood to us in the long run though because we were forced to play a lot of U18’s and they picked up invaluable experience of competing at junior level.
‘That in turn made a huge difference to this year’s squad as we got a lot of experienced players back and along with our younger guys, were able to pick from a strong line-up on most weekends. At times, it was extremely difficult to pick a starting eleven but worked out for us in the end.’
Briscoe and Bunratty United can bask in the glow of a title-winning campaign but the 70-year-old is adamant junior team manager McSweeney deserves the most praise for helping the Schull side return to the West Cork League’s top tier.
‘The amount of work our manager Dan McSweeney put in on and off the pitch has been absolutely fantastic,’
‘Dan managed the lads to the Division 1 League title and I helped him out in more of an assistant manager’s role. We spent a lot of time coming to a decision on things throughout the campaign but Dan’s experience meant he (rightfully) had the bigger say and in fairness to him, all of his hard work paid off as we managed to win the trophy.’
The Division 1 League trophy safely tucked away, Bunratty United’s season is far from over.
A high-profile Beamish Cup third round tie away to current Premier Division leaders Lyre Rovers looms large on the horizon as well as upcoming Carling League and Parkway Hotel League Cup ties.
2017’s relegation has been avenged with promotion back to the West Cork League’s top flight and the possibility of adding additional silverware before seasons end. It has been quite the turnaround for Briscoe and a resurgent Bunratty United.