Tom Lyons takes a closer look at the county league structure for 2018 ahead of the big throw-in
WITH the national football leagues in football and hurling underway since last weekend, the spotlight switches to the club scene as well this coming weekend when the county football leagues get underway, weather and pitches permitting.
With a whole new fixtures’ programme for inter-county this season, it’s going to be unknown territory on the club scene in both championship and league.
County board vice-chairman Kevin O’Donovan is the new man in charge of the leagues this season, taking over from chairperson Tracey Kennedy, and already he is attempting to put a firm stamp on the fixtures’ list by having all 11 rounds of the football leagues finished by the July 8th.
This is unprecedented in the long history of the leagues and even in 2017 the final of Division 1, the Kelleher Shield final, was not played until the very end of November.
This should give Cork footballers a clear run if they qualify for the closing Super 8 in the All-Ireland championship and it could also mean the three months of July, August and September completely dedicated to club championships.
With the club hurling leagues also scheduled to be finished in July, it means that dual clubs and dual players could be in weekly action, non-stop from the beginning of February to the end of July.
The burning question is, of course, how many of those league games will see inter-county players involved with their clubs?
The recommendation in the League Regulations is that county footballers will only be available on three dates, February 18th, March 11th and April 15th. At least it will mean non-stop league action for the ordinary club player, which is welcome.
The four weeks of August are set aside for catching up on games not played, with August 26th as the cut-off date
for all games.
Nine substitutes are allowed in all league games, ordinary time, with three substitutes in extra time, where played.
A look now at the football leagues and the various West Cork teams involved. The leagues are divided into five divisions, with 11 teams in the top four and ten in Division 5. In all, there are 13 West Cork teams involved, if we include Castletownbere and Adrigole. Clonakilty are the only West Cork club with two teams involved, their senior team in Division 1 and their intermediate team in Division 5, an indication, perhaps of the declining playing numbers in most rural clubs at present.
Division 1: Ballincollig are the reigning champions, having beaten Clonakilty in extra time to win their first-ever title last November. The famed Kelleher Shield, first presented in 1913 when Bantry were the winners, is the trophy for this Division and the competition itself is better known among clubs as The Kelleher Shield.
Disappointingly only three West Cork teams – Clonakilty, Carbery Rangers and O’Donovan Rossa – are included in this Division, with oft-time winners Castlehaven being surprisingly relegated in 2017, along with Ilen Rovers. The division is made up of seven senior teams and four premier intermediate teams, Macroom and Cill na Martra being the promoted teams this season. Only two city clubs, Nemo and the Barr’s, are involved. Teams: Ballincollig, Clonakilty Seniors, Carbery Rangers, Valley Rovers, Béal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh, O’Donovan Rossa, St. Finbarr’s, Nemo Rangers, Mallow, Cill na Martra and Macroom. Top 4 qualify for semi-finals, bottom 2 relegated.
Division 2: Cill na Martra, one of only two teams to win all their league games, beat Macroom in last season’s final, with both being promoted to Division 1. Coming up from Division 3 for 2018 are Newmarket and Aghabullogue. Surprisingly relegated from Division 2 in 2017 was strong city senior club, Bishopstown, along with Naomh Abán, continuing their slide downwards from Division 1.
West Cork is strongly represented in this division with Castlehaven and Ilen Rovers joining Newcestown, who finished in eighth position in 2017, having won only three games. Teams: Castlehaven, Ilen Rovers, Newcestown, Douglas, St Michael’s, Newmarket, Clyda Rovers, Kiskeam, Éire Óg, Aghabullogue and Newmarket. Top two qualify for final and promotion, bottom two relegated.
Division 3: Newmarket topped this division in 2017 but lost the divisional final to Aghabullogue, both being promoted. Coming up from Division 4 are Bandon and Castletownbere while relegated for 2018 are Aghada and St Vincent’s. Again there is a strong West Cork presence here with promoted Bandon and Castletownbere joining Bantry Blues, unlucky third last season and losing out on a final place by only a single point, and Dohenys, who finished in eighth position with only four wins.
Teams: Bishopstown, Naomh Abán, Bantry Blues, Fermoy, Carrigaline seniors, Nemo Rangers intermediates, Dohenys, Rockchapel, Glanworth, Bandon and Castletownbere. Top two qualify for final and promotion, bottom two relegated.
Division 4: Bandon continued their climb up the divisions by topping this division in 2017 and beating Castletownbere in the final. Relegated at the end of 2017 were city neighbours Mayfield and St Nick’s, who now find themselves campaigning in Division 5 of the leagues despite playing in the senior championship.
Coming up from Division 5 are Gabriel Rangers and Grenagh. West Cork interest will focus on Gabriels and Kinsale. Teams: Aghada, St Vincents, Kildorrery, Na Piarsaigh, Ballydesmond, Mitchelstown, Ballinora, Kinsale, Glenville, Grenagh, Gabriel Rangers. Top two qualify for final and promotion, bottom two relegated.
Division 5: Gabriel Rangers, in only their first season in the county leagues, won this final in 2017, beating table-toppers, Grenagh, who had won all their league matches. Newcomers for 2018 are county junior champions, Knocknagree, while Douglas seconds revert back to junior. The West Cork interest comes from Clonakilty intermediate side and Adrigole. Teams: Mayfield, St Nick’s, Adrigole, Millstreet, Youghal, Clonakilty Intermediates, Carrigaline Intermediates, St Finbarr’s intermediates, Glanmire, Knocknagree. Top two qualify for final and promotion.