THIS is bonus territory for Clonakilty footballers.
Before a ball was kicked in this year’s Premier SFC the target was to get out of their group. Mission accomplished with a second-place finish in Group C that opened the door to the knock-out stages.
That’s progress from last season when, under a different management, their campaign ended at the group stage.
Clon took it on a step further with their recent quarter-final win against Duhallow, as they reeled off the last seven points to win 0-13 to 1-9 and qualify for a first senior county semi-final since 2010.
Being ranked as the outsiders of the last four will suit Clon as they are exceeding expectations, given their recent track record at this level. Selector Eoin Ryan feels their best is yet to come.
‘We feel this is a building process. There is a lot more to do with this team,’ Ryan says.
‘This is our first year as a management team with this group. Bit by bit we are building but there is a lot more to do. We are delighted to be in a semi-final, our aim was to get out of the group so this is bonus territory for us.’
Ryan, as well as Neil Deasy and Brian Murphy, are part of Mike ‘Haulie’ O’Neill’s management team. This is their first year in charge and the results make for impressive reading. They qualified for the Cork Credit Union Football League 1 final against St Finbarr’s, who won 4-15 to 3-10. Then in the Premier SFC, they’ve beaten Ilen Rovers, Ballincollig (who beat Clon at the same stage in 2020), lost to the Barrs but bounced back to beat a seasoned Duhallow. That’s all progress. This Clon team is maturing and finding its feet, Ryan feels, and also committing to the cause.
‘The players are buying in to what we are doing and that’s important. If you don’t have that, you’re wasting your time,’ Ryan says.
‘The Ballincollig win was a good one for us. We did well in the league and got to the final so we have had a good few wins and that becomes a habit, it gives them self belief and they believe then in what they are doing.’
That self belief was there in the quarter-final against Duhallow when Clon looked in trouble. The divisional team led by six early in the second half before Clon hit seven unanswered points to edge into the last four. That fightback was encouraging, another little step in the right direction.
‘To be honest, everything was going according to plan except for the third quarter. We created chances but we didn’t take them. If we pulled the trigger when we should have, there was 1-3 in the third quarter that we could have scored,’ Ryan explains.
‘We kept doing what we were doing, we kept creating chances and we just took them in the last quarter. In fairness, they really kicked on. A switch was flicked. Once they got one or two points, they started to believed and then push on.’
The next test is Douglas this Sunday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The city side was the top team in the group stage and went direct to the semi-finals. Clon will start as underdogs, but they’re comfortable in that role.
‘Douglas had a huge result against Nemo in the group stages and they’ll be favourites, but we’ll give it a go,’ Ryan says.
‘We treat every game the same. We know it’s a county semi-final, but it is all about going out to play football the way they can play. There is no point in getting too hyped up over it. It’s a game of football, you can win or lose, but the most important thing is to go out there and do your best, play with a smile and enjoy it.’
That approach has brought Clon this far. No need to change now.