A new West Cork League season begins this weekend with Dunmanway Town going in search of a second consecutive Premier Division title. GER McCARTHY offers a club-by-club guide to the favourites, wildcards and relegation battlers
This Sunday sees the start of another long West Cork League campaign with all three divisions taking to the field on the first full weekend of league action. Rarely has there been a more competitive looking PremierHiSpecCars.com Premier Division with champions Dunmanway Town facing a host of clubs anxious to wrestle the title away from Mohona.
Drinagh Rangers will certainly challenge but it will be fascinating to see how newcomers Spartak Mossgrove cope back in the top tier following consecutive promotions. Lyre Rovers' welcome return to the top flight underlines the strength of this year's top division where Togher Celtic, Clonakilty AFC and Riverside Athletic will also be keen to make an impact.
Dunmanway Town: The Mohona club claimed last year's PremierHiSpecCars.com Premier Division trophy following an undefeated campaign where 13 victories and three draws were enough to see off the challenge of arch rivals Drinagh Rangers. John Buckley's side start 2017-18 as one of the favourites for the region's top prize, bolstered by a forward division that includes the goal-scoring prowess of Mark Buckley. Town will be the team to beat once again this term but a positive start is crucial to retaining their title.
Prediction: Champions. If they can avoid injuries then Dunmanway Town are capable of claiming a second title in as many seasons. Scoring goals shouldn't be a problem when Mark Buckley plays along with a defence that only conceded miserly 13 goals (second only to Drinagh's record of 11) last season.Â
Drinagh Rangers: Last season's runners-up will be Dunmanway's main title challengers and anxious to build on their previous showing in which the Beamish and Parkway Hotel Maybury Coaches Cups were won by the Canon Crowley Park club. Rangers have already drawn first blood ahead of the big kick-off, defeating Dunmanway 5-4 on penalties following a thrilling 4-4 draw to lift the Michael Cronin Cup last week. Barry O'Driscoll (H) and Gearoid White's ability to score regularly will be central to any success and if Drinagh can recapture last season's cup form then a season-long title-challenge awaits.Â
Prediction: Second. Don Hurley and Declan Deasy's side possess an experienced core capable of pushing Dunmanway all the way but Rangers may have to settle for second place once again this term.
Spartak Mossgrove: All eyes will be on Spartak who return to the top tier of West Cork League football having won the 2017 OBrienWaterServices.com Division 1 title without losing a game. Coming off their second consecutive promotion, Spartak could be the surprise package of 2018 but much will depend on player availability due to GAA commitments. Player-manager Daniel Twomey will once again be one of Spartak's most important personnel both on and off the pitch.
Prediction: Third. This forecast is bound to raise a few eyebrows but a talent-laden Spartak starting 11 will take points off the front-runners and mid-table table teams in their first season back in the top flight. Mossgrove will also be dangerous opposition in the cup competitions.Â
Clonakilty AFC: The Inchydoney-based club are perennial title-challengers but have lacked the consistency and cutting edge required to force their way past Dunmanway and previous Premier Division champions in recent seasons. New manager Aidan Pendlebury will hope an influx of U18 title-winning and development squad personnel can propel âthe AFC' up the table. Expect Odhran Bancroft, Colin O'Sullivan, Ben Van Bree, Ger O'Donovan and Stephen Skinner to bolster an experienced setup.
Prediction: Fourth. Despite a fresh look about this season's squad, Clonakilty AFC will do well to keep pace with a title-race likely to feature stronger Dunmanway, Drinagh and Spartak squads.Â
Togher Celtic: Togher require a full-strength squad available for the majority of the campaign to be sure of repeating their 2016-17 form. Celtic showed what they are capable of by defeating Drinagh Rangers to claim last season's Premier Division Cup but the loss of striker Johnny Kelly to Bandon AFC is a serious blow. But there are enough experienced players within Celtic's ranks to secure a top-half finish under Johnny Collins and Kevin Hurley's management.
Prediction: Fifth. Always tough to beat on their home ground of Droumleena Lawn, Togher are likely to avoid any relegation issues provided they get off to a positive start. Defeating Drinagh for the Premier Division Cup has given the club a timely boost.
Riverside Athletic: It is only two seasons ago that Riverside Athletic claimed the Premier Division trophy following an unbeaten season. Last term, Athletic relinquished their title to Dunmanway Town but finished a respectable mid-table and reached the quarter-finals of the Beamish Cup amid a campaign blighted by injuries and absentees. Brian Corcoran proved a dependable goalkeeper while Brian McCarthy and Niall Kelleher contributed the bulk of Althetic's goals. They, along with Peter Daly and John Daly (if all are available) should help cement another mid-table finish.
Prediction: Sixth. Much will depend on their home form but Riverside Athletic have enough experience and youthful talent to safely retain their Premier Division status and finish mid-table once again.
Lyre Rovers: Lyre are the other promoted club back in the top flight this year having finishing second behind Spartak Mossgrove in the OBrienWaterServices.com Division 1 League. Rovers held off Mizen AFC and Crookstown to gain re-entry to the Premier and possess enough quality to consolidate their position in the top league.Â
Prediction: Seventh. Willie Griffin oversaw last year's successful promotion run and much will depend on the GAA demands of a club that draws its players from multiple west Cork areas. Retaining their Premier Division status is a reasonable goal but Lyre will cause the frontrunners plenty of issues on their home ground.
Leeside: Annual relegation survivors Leeside have made a speciality out of avoiding the drop but disappointingly, face a much bigger challenge ahead of the new season. News that their Inchigeela pitch of 15 years is no longer available to the club means finding a new home takes priority over preparing for another Premier Division campaign. Brian Cronin, Colin Tanner, Joe Creedon, Finbarr McSweeney and GAA star Chris Ãg Jones were Leeside's standout players last term.
Prediction: Relegated. Survival is on Leeside's minds once again ahead of the big kick-off but this time it is the club's very existence rather than avoiding the drop. Against the backdrop of such uncertainty, a proud West Cork League club needs all the help they can get.
Ballydehob: The Rathravane side needed a play-off victory over Bantry Bay Rovers to retain their Premier Division status at the end of a difficult season. Ballydehob struggled for consistency throughout 2017 despite Barry O'Brien, Tim Regan, Donal Sullivan, Sacha Walden and Aidan Coughlan's best efforts. Yet, the arrival of Ryan O'Neill and Kalum Geary introduces some much needed youth into their line-up.
Prediction: Relegated. Mike Helen's side will target survival once again but face an even bigger challenge to retain their status considering the Premier Division's increased quality following the arrivals of Spartak Mossgrove and Lyre Rovers.