BY KIERAN McCARTHY
CLONAKILTY begin life back in Division 1 of the Munster Junior League with a mouth-watering local derby at home against Bandon this Sunday (2.30pm).
After two seasons in Division 2 Clonakilty earned promotion back to Division 1 last season and now they’re keen to show that they can hold their own against the best junior teams in Munster.
First up are local rivals Bandon – and it’s a game that Clon captain Donal McSweeney is looking forward to.
‘We want to show that we can hold our own in Division 1,’ he says.
‘We were down in Division 2 for a few years where we rebuilt and we’re back up in Division 1 again now. We put in a good pre-season, training has gone well, we’ve a nice squad with a few additions and while we know Division 1 is a tough league, we’re ready to get stuck in.
‘There’s not a huge turnover, it’s pretty much the same core group of players and that’s great for the continuity year on year.’
Clon’s promotion to Division 1 last season was one of the feel-good stories of the season because the club had struggled since losing their senior status in 2013. On their return to Division 1 they didn’t make much of an impression and their relegation in 2017 wasn’t a huge surprise. But the mood has changed. As player/coach Mike O’Hea told The Southern Star earlier this year, the fun is back in Clon rugby now – and the mindset has changed, too – and we saw that in their Division 2 campaign last year. They will want to maintain that momentum back in Division 1.
The good news is that there is continuity in both the players and the management, so that’s a solid base to build on. Eddie Knowles remains the man in charge of Clon and this will be his third season at the helm. Again, Terry Dillon and player/coach Mike O’Hea help form the management team.
Opposite Knowles on Sunday will be a man he knows well, Bandon manager Paul Barr who previously was involved in a coaching role with Clonakilty in their All-Ireland League days. Barr is back as the head coach in Bandon this season, having previously been involved when they won promotion from Division 2 in 2015. More recently Barr coached the Bandon U16s to All-Ireland glory last season. He also brings huge experience as he was Cork Con’s senior coach too so his appointment is a good news for Bandon.
They have been the leading West Cork club in recent seasons, winning the Division 1 title in 2018 and that followed on from their Munster Junior Cup success in 2017. That in mind, they’ll be expected to be in contention at the business end of Division 1 again this season.
‘We’ve a bit of a turnover of players this season with a few of the lads from last year not involved this year,’ Barr says.
‘Every club goes through a turnover when players move on and new players come in, and we are in the position where we can bring in talented young players who were involved in Bandon’s All-Ireland U18 win in 2018.
‘We played Skibbereen in the County Cup last weekend (Bandon won 28-17) and we had five forwards playing who were in the U18 team two years ago and a number of them will start against Clon. It’s great for the club to see these players come through but we also need patient because there is a big step up from underage to junior rugby.’
The experienced Timmy Crowley is not currently involved with Bandon, Bronson Waaka ahs returned to New Zealand and Aidan Slattery is working in America, but Bandon still have an experienced core group of players that includes Kerry Desmond, Tom Ferguson and Olan Crowley.
‘In terms of goals for the season, we will take it training session by training session and match by match and see where that takes us,’ says Barr, who adds, ‘I will know a lot more after the game against Clonakilty this Sunday than I do now.