CARBERY Rangers captain Jerry O’Riordan is not looking beyond his club’s 2021 Cork Premier SFC opener with Éire Óg this Saturday.
The West Cork side has been drawn against divisional rivals Castlehaven and Newcestown for the second year in a row. Yet it is Rangers’ opening game against the fourth club in Group B that has supporters and neutrals excited.
2020 Cork senior A county champions Éire Óg make their premier senior debut against Carbery Rangers in Bandon on Saturday (2pm throw-in).
O’Riordan is pleased his team’s preparations have improved in the weeks leading up to their opening Group B tie.
‘The first few matches back this year involved a few losses in the league but, in fairness, the last two months have gone much better for us,’ O’Riordan told The Southern Star.
‘Winning a few challenge games and then finishing off the Tom Creedon Cup with another bunch of victories should stand to us. In fairness to the lads, they have been putting in a huge amount of effort and things have been going well enough in the lead up to our first county championship game.’
A quick scan of the Rangers’ senior panel reveals a fair sprinkling of experienced players. The usual suspects are still going strong such as John and Seamus Hayes, James Fitzpatrick and Brian Shanahan.
This year, however, the Rangers senior set-up, under new manager Declan Hayes, has been infused with emerging talent from the club’s underage ranks. Rangers claimed their first Carbery U21A football title in 26 years earlier this summer. Darragh Hayes, Jack O’Regan, Diarmuid Kerr, Patrick Hurley, Peadar O’Rourke and Paul Hodnett are some of the U21s ready to make an impact at senior level. Although, as O’Riordan points out, many of those youngsters have already found their feet at the adult grade.
‘A lot of those U21 players would have been blooded over the last two years, many who stood up (at senior) these past years because of injuries. They were never found wanting either in fairness to them,’ the Carbery Rangers captain said.
‘Darragh Hayes has brought his U21 championship form into the senior team and others like Patrick Hurley and a few more have done well. Those new lads have definitely strengthened our senior panel.
‘There is nobody certain of a starting position and that’s something Declan (Hayes) has kept stressing to us. It is pushing everyone to do their best in training and matches. That is what you want at this level, competition for places.’
O’Riordan and his teammates could have been forgiven for sighing at the sight of Castlehaven and Newcestown being pulled out as group opponents for the second year in a row. In 2020, the Haven edged Rangers 0-14 to 0-9 prior to Newcestown inflicting a 2-12 to 2-9 defeat on Ross.
‘There is no getting away from it but last year was hugely disappointing for us,’ O’Riordan said.
‘Not getting out of the group was disappointing to say the least. I don’t know why but things just didn’t go our way. This year I feel we are in a much better position to kick on and hopefully, learn from last year’s mistakes.
‘Newcestown are going to be dogged as ever. Castlehaven will be Castlehaven, plenty of attacking talent for us to try and shut down. They are two big West Cork derbies for our supporters to look forward to.’
Rangers will be anxious to get off to the best possible start but that requires overcoming top tier newcomers Éire Óg.
‘They are a team with massive momentum behind them right now,’ O’Riordan said.
‘We haven’t seen much of them apart from watching this year’s senior A county final win over Mallow. They looked very strong and very fit that day.
‘Éire Óg seem to have a good mixture of young and old in their team. Nothing can be taken for granted and they look well suited to playing in the premier senior grade. They also looked good in this year’s county league as well after reaching a final.
‘In terms of a fourth seed in our group, Éire Óg are the toughest opposition we could have asked for. It is a tough group and they will be tough opponents for us.
‘We are looking forward to the game and have been building steadily towards it for a long time. As a player, you’d be hopping this time of the year. Everyone in the Carbery Rangers panel is focussed in and just looking forward to that first game against Éire Óg now.’