HISTORY awaits for Bantry Bay RFC as they prepare for a first-ever appearance in a Munster club rugby final at adult level.
An 8-6 semi-final win against Douglas-Carrigaline on February 18th, with Jason Wycherley scoring a try and a penalty, has put Bantry into the final of the Munster Junior Bowl, where they will play Bruff, date to be confirmed.
Formed in 1926 and re-established in 1993 after a period in hiatus, Bantry have endured some tough years in Division 3 of the Munster Junior League.
Player-coach is Declan Coppinger, formerly involved with Skibbereen and Clonakilty as well as featuring for Munster and Sunday’s Well, and he believes that the team has benefited from a greater confidence which has been born out with results.
‘The last few seasons, they were struggling,’ he says, ‘they went a couple of years without winning a game.
‘As well as doing well in the bowl, we’ve won four league games out of ten this year and even when we’ve been beaten we’ve done quite well, we’ve closed the gap on teams and competed quite well.’
In his first year in charge, Coppinger is too humble to take all of the credit for the turnaround, citing a number of factors in helping to arrest the slide.
‘Damien Hicks and Eugene McCarthy have put in great work on the underage side of things,’ he says.
‘That ensured that some good-quality players coming through and then Connie O’Sullivan is involved in the junior team with me, we’ve just tried to bring a bit of organisation and to impart good coaching.
‘I always saw the potential was here, but maybe they were just lacking a bit of confidence when they were losing.
‘We’re trying to be a bit more professional and put an onus on the players, but you want it to be fun then at the same time.
‘Obviously, if you’re getting the results, then it’s going to be more fun.’
That’s what made the semi-final win, and the manner of it, all the more satisfying.
‘We’ve been underdogs all season,’ Coppinger says, ‘and though we’ve been competitive until the 50- or 60-minute mark, then we’ve fallen away after that on some occasions.
‘In the game against Douglas-Carrigaline, we were under pressure for the whole game and we needed a late kick to win it but you hope that things like that will stand to you.
‘It’ll be similar now in the final. Bruff are a senior club in the All-Ireland League, this is their second team so the guys playing will have a lot of experience of playing in big games.
‘Our guys just have to go out and believe in themselves, if they do that then I think they have the quality to win the game.’
The Bantry Bay squad includes Andre Polivka, Danny Hutchinson, Dara Twomey, Declan Coppinger, Mike Young, John Hennessey, Jason Wycherly, Ian Hurley, Fintan Collins, John Levin, Kevin Holland, Gareth Murphy (captain), Kevin O’Kane, Liam Lynch, Fergal O’Sullivan, Tom Ferron, Proinsias Cronin, Ray Coppinger, Joe Piggot and Kieran Noonan.