How Dunmanway Town won the WCL Premier Division title
BY GER McCARTHY
THERE has never been a West Cork League Premier Division title-race quite like the 2019 edition but Dunmanway Town won’t care one iota after capturing their second league trophy in three years.
Since last September, the Mohona club engaged in a four-way battle for Premier Division supremacy with Ballydehob, defending champions Drinagh Rangers and (until the final months) Togher Celtic.
One glance at Dunmanway’s results against their fellow contenders underlines why the past campaign will go down as one of the most intensely fought in WCL history.
Against Togher Celtic, Dunmanway won 2-1 and lost 0-2 whilst also going down 2-1 and drawing 1-1 with Drinagh Rangers. But their two league encounters and subsequent play-off final with eventual runners-up Ballydehob proved the most important of all Town’s results. A 1-1 draw at Mohona in early October preceded a 2-2 draw in Rathravane on December 30th.
The concluding month of the season saw Dunmanway defeat Lyre Rovers 3-1 thanks to Jamie Carroll, Rhys Coakley and Cathal Daly efforts. Next up was a difficult trip to Town Park in Schull and a meeting with Bunratty United. Level at one apiece, a late goal earned Town their ninth victory of the campaign and, crucially, ensured the destination of the Premier Division trophy would go to the final day of the season. Jamie Carroll and Cullan Barry found the net on that occasion.
It is worth mentioning just how close the West Cork League’s top tier was at this juncture. Defending champions Drinagh had yet to suffer a league defeat while a Ballydehob outfit chasing their first ever Premier Division success were still in the mix having lost only once. Both clubs would maintain those records while Togher made up for fading out of the title-picture by overcoming Drinagh to claim a first Beamish Cup in 22 years.
Compare those records with a Dunmanway side that had suffered three league reversals heading into the concluding weekend. The pressure was most definitely on ahead of a showdown with Drinagh at Town’s home ground.
But John Buckley and Andrew Healy’s side’s ability to overcome perilous situations and win more than they drew would prove the most critical elements of their Premier Division success.
A cracking game that ebbed and flowed saw Rangers hit the front courtesy of a Tomás Connolly opener. Rangers would have been crowned champions had the 1-0 score-line remained intact until Town’s resilience resurfaced and Cathal Daly equalised to earn his side a 1-1 draw.
That outcome meant a play-off for the title between Ballydehob and Dunmanway was necessary after the protagonists finished level on 31 points apiece (goal difference is not taken into account in the WCL).
And so to the Baltimore Road for a winner-take-all encounter between the top two ranked clubs in the league at the conclusion of an arduous season. A huge crowd, superb playing surface and beautiful weather only added to a special occasion.
Both Ballydehob and Dunmanway deserve credit for delivering such a superb contest on such a pressure-filled afternoon but in the end, the Premier Division title came down to a penalty shootout after a scoreless draw. Stephen Daly proved one of the most important members of Town’s squad and produced a crucial save in the shootout to present Mark Buckley with an opportunity to win it for the Mohona side.
Buckley, ice-cool under pressure, made no mistake to spark wild celebrations, a second league success in three years cementing Town’s place amongst the best clubs in the West Cork region.
Ballydehob and Drinagh may have been in contention up until the play-off finale but drawing seven (Ballydehob) and nine (Rangers) out of their sixteen fixtures turned the tide in Dunmanway’s favour. Much like Liverpool’s fruitless pursuit of Manchester City, Ballydehob and Drinagh pushed the West Cork League champions to the absolute limit only to come up short after drawing far too many games.
In retrospect, it has been a remarkable season when you consider the high quality of football played at the summit of the Premier Division, the closeness of so many games plus increased attendances at finals and league deciders.
Add to that, Togher Celtic’s emotional Beamish Cup triumph and Durrus’ promotion to the top tier along with claiming two additional trophies and West Cork League supporters have been spoiled for narratives over the past eight months.
Yet, there is little doubt that the season belongs to Dunmanway Town as a dogged ability to outlast their title rivals enabled the Mohona club finish the season as the most deserving of Premier Division champions.
The Dunmanway Town squad included Stephen Daly, Aidan O’Donovan, John Healy, Stephen Keohane, Stephen O’Donovan, Cathal Daly, Mark Buckley, Barry O’Donovan, Rhys Coakley, Jamie Carroll, Jamie O’Donovan, Ray Jennings, Kieran Forbes, Declan O’Dwyer, Cathal O’Donovan, Cian Collins and Cullan Barry.