BY Denis Hurley
ILEN Rovers manager Sean Casey is hopeful that his side’s experience of grinding out tight games will stand to them in Saturday’s county U21AFC final against St Finbarr’s in Páirc Uí Rinn (8pm).
In their opening Carbery championship game against Kilmeen, the divisional final against Newcestown and the county semi-final against Ballincollig, the Baltimore/Church Cross side have prevailed by a point.
That said, against Carbery Rangers, Clonakilty and Fermoy, their class has shown in impressive victories and Casey feels that they have improved as the campaign has gone on.
‘If you had looked at the pecking order at the start of the championship, Castlehaven, Clonakilty, Newcestown would have all been ahead of us,’ he says.
‘We rode our luck in the first couple of games, Kilmeen should have beaten us in the first round, we got out of jail, really. They had all of the chances in the last ten minutes but we got that one-point victory and that gave us a bit of momentum and we built from there.
‘We were okay against Ross, again it came down to the last ten minutes but we got through that. If you saw us a week or ten days before the Kilmeen game, we had absolutely nothing done.
‘We played Skibb in a challenge game and got hockeyed, we’d have taken a couple of wins in the championship at that stage. To be where we are now, we’re thrilled with it, to be honest. The Clon game really made us realise that we had a good enough team.
‘Apart from being in the senior final in 2007, we haven’t been in a top-level county final before. It’s a great achievement for the players.’
There are a some injury worries, but Casey is optimistic that they will be overcome.
‘We’re unsure of a couple,’ he says.
‘Josh Pickett didn’t play the last day, so we’re not really 100 percent sure if he’ll be right to play or not. Daniel O’Driscoll picked up an injury in the Ballincollig game and he hasn’t trained since.
‘You’d be hopeful enough that they’d play as it’s a county final, but they won’t be fully fit.’
The availability of Liam Coombes, who got the crucial goal in the Carbery final against Newcestown, is also uncertain due to Munster Rugby commitments.
‘That’s really up in the air,’ Casey says.
‘We don’t know, to be honest, and we won’t know until the end of the week. He’s involved with Munster and it depends on whether he’s allowed or not allowed.
‘We’re kind of planning without him at the moment and if we have him, it’s a bonus.’
Things are going well in the club, with seniors having reached Round 4 of the SFC win a recent win over Carrigaline, contributing to the sense of momentum.
‘The senior win against Carrigaline was a big help, the seniors and U21s have been able to train together as you wouldn’t be able to get any U21 challenge games,’ Casey says.
‘Edward Sheehy has done a lot on the physical side, he sorts that kind of stuff anyway and he has been a big help to the whole thing. He has taken both gangs and hopefully it’ll come through the next day, that all of the work that we put in will pay off.
‘Both teams are feeding off each other, there are two massive games coming up, big challenges for both. Castlehaven were in the county final last year and St Finbarr’s have come through the city division, which is always full of good teams.
‘We’d have played them a couple of years ago in a challenge game and they gave us a bit of a pasting. We realise that we’re going to be well up against it.
‘They have some top-quality players, Stephen Sherlock has been flying it, he’s with their senior team as well and he’ll take a lot of handling. They probably don’t have too many minors playing whereas we’ll probably have five or six.
‘We’ll definitely give it our best, we’ll hope to succeed but it’ll be a massive challenge. An 8pm throw-in on a Saturday night in Páirc Uí Rinn isn’t ideal for our supporters either, but we’ll have a big crowd there.’