FOR the third year in a row, Clonakilty and Castlehaven will face each other in the final of the Clona Milk U21 A football championship, and Clonakilty will be seeking their third title in a row having beaten the Haven in the previous two finals.
In 2013 Clon, powered by Thomas Clancy and Barry O’Mahony, recorded a comprehensive 0-12 to 0-3 victory despite the presence of Brian Hurley and Damien Cahalane on the Haven side. Clon can still call on seven of that winning team for Sunday’s final while Castlehaven will have approx five in action.
In 2014 Clon repeated their clear superiority over the Haven lads when they recorded a 0-14 to 0-3 victory. Both teams can still call on ten of last year’s teams for this final but the player who missed that final through injury is the player who may make all the difference this time round, Michael Hurley of the Haven.
Both sides enter this game with question marks over their form so far this season, neither side looking like the quality teams of the past two seasons.
Clon met Carbery Rangers in the first round and were put to the pin of their collar to register a two-point win, 1-9 to 1-7, courtesy of a great last quarter from Cork minor Sean McEvoy.
It was McEvoy who again delivered in the semi-final when Clon looked to be on the way out of the championship against a vibrant Newcestown side, his two late points being vital in a 1-12 to 1-7 victory. The Clon goal only came in the dying seconds of the game.
Castlehaven looked to be cruising to a comfortable win against a strong Bandon side in the first round but the wheels came off in the second half and they had to rely on a late Conor Cahalane goal to register a 2-11 to 1-10 victory.
It was even closer in the semi-final against lively Ilen Rovers when they trailed by three points with five minutes remaining but rallied to draw with the last kick of normal time. Goals by Conor Cahalane and Ryan Foley in extra time gave the Haven a flattering 2-17 to 2-10 victory.
So, both sides enter this final under something of a cloud, as we could easily be previewing a Newcestown against Ilen final. Will it be Clon for a first-ever three in-a-row for the club or the Haven, who also lost the 2012 final, to make it third time lucky against Clon?
The experience over the past two finals is that it is some unsung player who will emerge the hero, not the expected big stars.
Clon will look to county U21 player Sean White to spear-head their drive from midfield, while his midfield partner will be last year’s man-of-the-match, Cian Crowley.
Their midfield battle with the experienced Conor Nolan and Darragh Cahalane will be vital, particularly as Clon have lorded midfield in the past two finals.
Clon have been missing regular full back Colm Sheehy for the past two games but he should be back for the final and will probably get the task of marking county player Michael Hurley, who grabbed the last-gasp equaliser against Ilen, his only score of the hour.
Will Clon double-mark Hurley as they did his older brother, Brian, so effectively two years ago?
Would that release Conor Cahalane to do wreck up front as the county minor has been in sparkling form to date? He will get good support from Patrick Bohane and Ryan Foley.
They will come up against a Clon back line that has been very tight so far, well-marshalled by last year’s county minor Cian O’Donovan, this year’s minor Tiarnán O’Connell, and Eoin Deasy.
At the other end Clon can call on Cork U21 panellist Jack O’Mahony, and Cork minors Sean McEvoy and David Lowney.
The Haven will look to county minor full back Ronan Walsh to marshal their defence, along with fine footballers Jonathan Burns, Brian Deasy and David Whelton.
Many of this Clon team were members of the Clonakilty Community College team that did so well this season and are capable of playing to a very high standard. However, a huge question mark hangs over the overall work rate of the team and unless they put the shackles firmly on Hurley and Cahalane, and match the Haven for commitment and work rate, they could be releasing their grip on the Liam Farr Cup on Sunday.
Verdict: Castlehaven to make up for the disappointment of the past two seasons with a narrow win.