WEST Cork League clubs are gearing up for a welcome return to action following four months of inactivity due to the coronavirus pandemic.
News that the West Cork League voted to complete their season on the pitch rather than calling a complete halt was warmly received by the majority of the region’s clubs. The logistics of how WCL league and cup competitions can be safely concluded will be ironed out over the coming weeks.
Early to mid-August looks the likeliest restart date for the 2019-20 Premier and Championship divisions.
Excitingly, there are several clubs in with a realistic shout of winning the top-tier’s most coveted trophy, none more so than perennial challengers Drinagh Rangers. The Canon Crowley Park club will resume their campaign five points clear of second-placed Ballydehob. Third-placed Clonakilty Town are six behind and with a game in hand. Defending champions Dunmanway Town cannot be discounted either despite lying in fourth with three games in hand on the Premier Division leaders.
Drinagh are favourites to win a league trophy they most recently held aloft in 2013, ’15 and ’18, but the fact each of the top four clubs are scheduled to face one another once the action resumes means supporters can look forward to plenty of twists and turns.
‘I think it’s absolutely correct that we finish off the West Cork League season,’ Drinagh Rangers co-manager Don Hurley told The Southern Star.
‘It is important to finish it off and the FAI have given their leagues the scope to do just that. West Cork is fortunate in that we had a smaller amount of games left to complete compared to other leagues around the country. Will it be different? Absolutely, but the right decision has been made to finish off our league and cup competitions.’
Reigning champions Dunmanway Town have a number of outstanding games to catch up on before they can attempt to draw level with the Premier Division frontrunners. Andrew Healy agrees with his Drinagh counterpart when it comes to finishing off the campaign.
‘I think completing the West Cork League season in a short period of time can be done but safety will be of the utmost importance,’ Healy said.
‘Yes, Dunmanway has three or four games to make up but we are looking forward to that. No-one has been able to take any summer holidays so it should be a relatively level playing field when all the clubs return.’
Second placed Ballydehob have not played a competitive league fixture since early February. A combination of postponements and awful weather hampered the Rathravane side’s attempts to pull away from their title-rivals.
Another issue the Hob and their fellow WCL clubs face is the prospect of games potentially clashing with a bulging GAA fixture-list. There should be ample time to play both sports in the timeframe involved but naturally, possible overlaps are a concern for Ballydehob manager James Arnold.
‘I will be honest, I don’t know if we can finish out the league in the timeframe that is left, to be fair, I don’t think anyone knows really,’ Arnold commented.
‘No-one knows what is going to happen between now and the date the league is scheduled to restart. As for GAA, it will be a problem for us and other (West Cork League) clubs too. Restarting the league earlier would make life easier, to a degree, but that will be down to the players themselves and what they want to do.’
Don Hurley added: ‘There is no getting away from the fact it is going to be a fairly packed sporting schedule for soccer and GAA between now and October. There are a lot of games to be played so the earlier West Cork League clubs get back the better. If we can play some of our matches before August 29th/30th, then that will leave us with more scope to complete our fixture-list.’
An experienced Dunmanway Town squad are no different to their fellow Premier Division title-challengers when it comes to players also involved in hurling and football.
‘I think, to be fair, a lot will depend on how and when the GAA decide to go ahead with their championships,’ Andrew Healy admitted.
‘The reality is that we just aren’t in a position to know how that is going to affect us (Dunmanway) until the (GAA) county championship calendars are announced. The WCL Committee has taken all of this into account though, so any fixture clashes will likely be kept to a minimum provided we can restart a few weeks before the GAA kicks in.’