GIVEN so much attention in West Cork will centre around Group B1 in this year’s Cork Premier Senior Football championship, Clonakilty could sail under the radar.
The group of death involving Castlehaven, Carbery Rangers, Ilen Rovers and Newcestown will dominate the build-up to this year’s Cork Premier SFC, but Clon are another local team hoping for a championship run.
It’s not stretching the point to state Clonakilty’s senior squad has undergone a major transition over the past five years. That timeframe has included two relegation play-off wins (Aghada in 2015 and O’Donovan Rossa in 2017) and a third-round exit (versus CIT in 2016). The past two seasons has seen an upturn in fortunes however, as Clon reached the last eight of the 2018 (defeated by Carbery Rangers) and 2019 (defeated by Duhallow) championships.
On top of that, Thomas Clancy, Sean White, Mark White, Liam O’Donovan (sadly, ruled out of the rest of the year with an ACL injury) and David Lowney have broken into the Cork senior inter-county squads. Allied with a vibrant underage set-up, Clonakilty has also produced Cork U20 and minor inter-county graduates including the likes of Maurice Shanley, Sean McEvoy, Tiernán O’Connell, Cian O’Donoghue and Dan Peet.
So, on paper at least, Clon possesses a squad capable of mixing it at the business end of the premier senior championship. Negotiating a group involving St Finbarr’s, Ballincollig and Carrigaline will not be easy yet Clonakilty manager Colm Aherne is glad to have access to his inter-county contingent ahead of a hectic period.
‘In fairness to Ronan McCarthy and Cork, all our (inter-county) lads are with us ahead of the championship,’ the Clonakilty manager told The Southern Star.
‘I suppose it is the first time we have had all the guys with us in a long while. It makes a huge difference to our preparations and has been great for them and all the other members of our senior panel. It is a bit of a novelty, but the lads are fully committed to Clonakilty right now and for the duration of the championship.’
A reduced timeframe and slimmed down format raises the prospect of a potential outsider claiming Andy Scannell in 2020.
The usual suspects – Nemo Rangers, Carbery Rangers, Castlehaven, St Finbarr’s and Duhallow – will be there or thereabouts. But every premier senior team faces the same intense six-week schedule complete with rustiness, injuries and suspensions.
Avoiding their neighbours in an all-West Cork group wasn’t something that Aherne dwelled on for too long.
‘I don’t think it matters that Clon aren’t playing any other West Cork teams in the opening group stage,’ Aherne said.
‘The reality is that most teams have already met one another in either challenge or league games over the past couple of years anyway. Most teams in Cork know each other well enough at this stage and there are few if any secrets to be worried about. It doesn’t matter who we are playing because every senior team will put it up to you at this level.
‘I know it is a cliché, but we are in uncharted territory and there will be so many football and hurling games to negotiate in a short space of time. Teams won’t know who they have available from game to game as injuries are definitely going to be a factor.
‘We have played the Barr’s and Ballincollig a few times over the last couple of years and Carrigaline last year. The bookies have the Barr’s and Ballincollig as favourites to come out of the group. Ourselves and Carrigaline will try our best to change that.’
Three Kerry men – Keith O’Leary, Dara Ó Sé and Joe Grimes – will also be part of Colm Aherne’s plans for the upcoming campaign.
‘They are your typical Kerry men, they ask lots of questions and give you few answers!’ Aherne laughed.
‘All jokes aside, Dara, Joe and Keith have been massive additions to our senior squad. They are well integrated into the town of Clonakilty at this stage. All three are living and working here and I know from speaking to them how much they are enjoying the experience.
‘Anytime you can bring new blood on to a panel, that’s a good thing. Just from speaking to the Clonakilty lads, they were delighted that we managed to persuade them to join the club and the three are part and parcel of the senior set-up now.’
Looking ahead to the Cork PSFC, it is difficult to predict how Clonakilty will fare due to such an unprecedented build-up.
‘It is very hard to know right now and that’s not me trying to shy away from the question at all,’ Aherne said.
‘The reality is that we won’t know where we are until after getting a few challenge games under our belt. It is the same for all clubs. Injuries are going to play a part and we have already lost club captain Fionn Coughlan for the next six weeks. This is where the depth of your squad comes into play though and we will be turning to others over the coming weeks.
‘The immediate aim, in the middle of such unchartered waters, is to take it one game at a time. Getting out of the group is something we want to do but being ready for that first game against Carrigaline is our only focus right now.’