BY KIERAN McCARTHY
PETER Murphy has seen the visible knock-on effect of Bantry Blues’ progression to the semi-finals of the Cork premier intermediate football championship.
For the past few seasons, the Blues’ limit were the quarter-finals. Between 2016 and ’18, each exit was at the same stage – against Fermoy last season, Bandon the year before, and back in 2016 Éire Óg beat Bantry by a single point after a replay.
The last time Bantry ventured this far into the championship was 2014 when Na Piarsaigh beat them in the last four, and there has been quite a turnover of players since then, so this year’s run feels like an important breakthrough for this current Bantry team.
‘When we got back training after beating Bandon in the quarter-final replay, there was a buzz about the players, a buzz with the supporters, a buzz in the dressing-room and a buzz about the town, people are talking football – and it’s positive talk and positive vibes,’ Bantry trainer Murphy says.
‘We are in a good place at the moment and whatever the outcome on Saturday, this has been a better year for Bantry. We’ve brought a lot of the young fellas on, it’s good for the club.’
Glengarriff man Murphy points out that this is a relatively young Bantry team with six or seven involved from this season’s U21s. A quick look back to the team that lost to Na Piarsaigh five years ago shows that there are only a few survivors, like Shane O’Neill, Joe Downey and Stephen Coughlan. That’s why getting to this year’s PIFC semis is a boost to Bantry.
‘We have consistently been getting to quarter-finals but we just have been missing that little bit extra to take the next step. Thankfully, we have taken it this year and it’s a big boost because this is a young enough team,’ explains Murphy, who wasn’t involved with the Blues last season but was for the two campaigns before that.
‘This semi-final is new territory for us. The lads have no fear, nothing to lose, we are underdogs, we are a young team and we are playing against a seasoned side that has Cork footballers all over it – but we will give it one good go, I can tell you that.’
Bantry will focus on their own performance in Clonakilty on Saturday (4pm), Murphy says, instead of worrying about the substantial Éire Óg threat. After their Round 1 win against St Vincent’s in April, there was a long break until their quarter-final against Bandon in September. That finished a draw, 1-13 apiece, with Bantry coughing up a five-point lead inside the final quarter. They learned from that and won the replay, 1-14 to 1-12, with Kevin Coakley’s goal decisive. Winning that match was a breakthrough moment for this Blues team.
‘There was such a long gap between the Vincent’s game to the Bandon game, and as management and players, we didn’t really know where we were heading into the Bandon match. We were just hoping that there was a big performance in us. That performance was good enough to get us a draw but not enough to get us a win,’ Murphy says.
‘They were disappointed after letting it slip the first day but in hindsight that brought them on a lot and they learned a lot. They kicked on in the replay and were good enough to get into the last four.’
Now they need to raise their level again, especially against a formidable Éire Óg outfit that has Ronan O’Toole, Colm O’Callaghan, Jack Murphy and Daniel Goulding. Bantry have plenty of talent themselves in Ruairi Deane, Stephen Coughlan, Tim Foley and Seanie O’Leary.
‘We just have to concentrate on ourselves. We played good football against Bandon on the first day and then we left them back into it, and we played better for longer in the replay,’ Murphy says.
‘We are bringing solid performances to the table and we need to do the same on Saturday and bring a bit more with it, if we are to get over the line. We are getting better. If this is enough we won’t know until Saturday evening.
‘In a way this is bonus territory because the majority of this team hasn’t played in a semi-final. We are going with a shot to nothing, it is unchartered territory for 90 per cent of this team but we will give it our very best and see where that takes us.’