DENZIL Fernandes once scored 80 goals in only 20 matches for Bandon AFC U16s, which must be some sort of a record.
A few years on, the 18-year-old is still making records because last week Denzil became the first-ever product of the West Cork Schoolboys League to play in the UEFA Youth League, which is European football’s elite youth competition.
Denzil started for Cork City U19s as they drew 0-0 away to HJS Helsinki in Finland – Schull’s Ronan Hurley was an unused sub – and he’s confident that the reigning SSE Airtricity League U19 champions can finish the job in the return leg on October 19th.
‘It was some experience, the entire trip was top-class, and I can’t wait for the return leg in Turner’s Cross; hopefully it will be packed and we can get the right result,’ Denzil said.
‘We were on top from the very start. They have some technically very good players but we had a game-plan drawn up in advance and we had been working on it since our cup final win (against St Pat’s in September), and the plan worked out well.
‘We are confident ahead of the second leg, we played well last week but we were kicking ourselves that we didn’t take our chances. We need to be more clinical in the return leg.’
Cork City U19s became the first Irish team to compete in the UEFA Youth League, qualifying through the domestic champions’ route, and the winner of this first-round tie will take on the winner of Roma and APOEL Nicosia in the last 32; Roma won the first leg 3-0.
Denzil’s journey to Cork City U19s is a tale in itself.
His father Camilo is from India, his mother Jean is from the Philippines and they met in Saudi Arabia, which is where Denzil was born, before the family moved to India. He’s the second eldest of four boys, Dominic’s older than him, both Daniel and Damien are younger.
The Fernandes family then moved to Drimoleague over ten years ago, and that’s when Denzil’s sporting talent started to shine.
He played with Drinagh Rangers in the West Cork Schoolboys League for seven seasons before moving to Bandon for a couple of years – that’s where he went goal crazy in his U16 Division 1 season – before he moved on to Corinthians’ U17s, and then Cork City U19s came calling in the summer of 2015.
The West Cork teenager, also a talented underage footballer with Clann na nGael, picked up a league winner’s medal in his first season, and this year he has gone from strength to strength with the U19s.
He was out injured earlier in the season for almost a month but since he came back his stats are impressive: he has scored six goals and has five assists in 12 games.
Cork City U19s have already been crowned SSE Airticity League U19 Southern Division winners, they beat St Patrick’s Athletic 2-0 to win the Enda McGill Cup last month, and now they’re making an impression in Europe.
These are good times for the Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa first-year student, who likes to play as a number ten or on the wing, and these are also good times for West Cork soccer as Denzil and Co show the entire WCSL that there is a path towards the top.
‘It was a great experience for me and Ronan Hurley to be the first West Cork players to be involved in the UEFA Youth League. It would be great to see more West Cork players coming through the ranks and I think we’ll see more coming through, to be honest,’ Denzil said.
‘Conor Hourihane (Bandon) getting a Republic of Ireland senior international call-up is a big boost to West Cork soccer, Connor Ellis (Kealkill) is going very well with Cork City and Cobh, too, and hopefully myself and Ronan can kick on, too. It’s only the start, hopefully we’ve a long way to go.’
Denzil added: ‘I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dad. He’s been driving me around the country for the past six years, sometimes coming straight from his work so it has been tough on him, but he’s been brilliant.’