By Ger McCarthy
THE West Cork League representative side faces a daunting challenge away to Oscar Traynor Cup holders Clare in Ennis on Saturday evening.
Manager Richie Collins and his backroom team of Mike Doolan, Rob Oldham and Paul Foley take their West Cork League squad into the proverbial lion’s den this weekend. Clare are searching for a third consecutive Oscar Traynor Cup in row and amongst the most respected junior set-ups in the country.
So, the challenge facing West Cork is stark, being drawn away to double-winning Oscar Traynor champions in the opening game of a revamped competition for 2017.
‘Last year, we were involved in a round-robin opening phase whereas this year the Oscar Traynor Cup has switched to a knockout format,’ explained WCL Manager Richie Collins.
‘We played three games in last year’s group against Kerry, Limerick District and Limerick Desmond. This time around we are away to Clare in our opening fixture and whoever wins progresses to the next round.
‘Thankfully – should we lose – at least we will get a second chance in the losers’ round at home to either Kerry or Limerick. It is effectively a second bite at the cherry before a straight knockout format after that.’
West Cork’s build-up to their crunch encounter with Clare included a friendly with Innishvilla, in which a host of players produced impressive displays and gave their manager some welcome selection headaches ahead of Saturday’s trip to Ennis.
‘We defeated a very good Innishvilla side 2-1 but much more importantly, we used that game to blood a lot of new players,’ commented Richie Collins.
‘Obviously a few players have left last year’s panel but one new player that came in and didn’t look out of place against Innishvilla was Bantry Bay Rovers’ goalkeeper Donal Casey. Overall, we are pretty happy with our preparations but going up to Clare and taking on a team that has won the Oscar Traynor twice in the last two years means we are massive underdogs.
‘The Clare League has taken this competition very seriously for some time and are now reaping the rewards. It is a tough ask for West Cork, to try and come away with something from the game but I know that this squad will give their all.
‘JJ Collins retains the captaincy and was a hugely important player for us in the centre of defence alongside Stephen Keohane last year. JJ is a good leader both on and off the pitch and part of a large Drinagh Rangers contingent within our squad.
‘Drinagh’s Jamie Walsh played well against Innishvilla and we also had Castletown Celtic’s Sean Crowley involved that night who I thought was excellent. Lyre Rovers’ Gearoid Barry was another player to stand out but we hope the entire squad can just deliver a performance our league can be proud of.’
An injection of youth aided West Cork’s campaign last time out and Richie Collins is eager to continue introducing as many new, young players as possible into the Oscar Traynor panel. This year will be no exception.