THE Rowa/Rowex South West junior A football championship gets underway this Sunday with four round one games down for the decision.
Most teams have suffered because of weather and poor pitch conditions and predicting the first round games is something of a lottery. With reigning champions Bandon now campaigning in intermediate, the Mick McCarthy Cup is up for grabs and a number of sides will fancy their chances.
Clann na nGael v St Oliver Plunkett’s
Conor McCarthy and Finbarr McCarthy are the men in charge of the Ahiohill footballers, with Denis Enright of Clonakilty returning for another spell as trainer. They will be hoping to improve on a poor season in 2015 when they lost St James and Muintir Bháire and just survived a relegation play-off against Clonakilty.
They are still depending on all the old reliables like the O’Driscoll clan and the Coffeys. There is a dearth of talent coming through from minor with Sean O’Donovan one to watch. The team looked tired last season and it remains to be seen if Enright can get another good season from them. They have done well in the league, winning three out of four.
Clann na nGael disappointed in the early rounds last season, losing to Carbery Rangers and struggling over an Argideen side which was later relegated. They improved as the championship progressed, beating O’Donovan Rossa and giving St Mary’s a tough game in the quarter-final. It remains to be seen if they have built on that but they have won two league games from three so far. By far their most impressive player last season was Don O’Driscoll, a Cork U21 this season, but he is out injured and will be a huge loss.
Prediction: This is a finely balanced clash, so finely balanced that the loss of Don O’Driscoll to the Scorchers could be the deciding factor in swinging the game towards Plunkett’s.
Kilmacabea v St Colum’s
This is the big game of round one, with the 2013 champions against the 2015 finalists, both with ambitions to replace Bandon as champions.
Kilmacabea will have all last year’s impressive side in action, bar Joe Collins, who is overseas. Their young players will be a year older and the experience of reaching their first final last season should bring them on. Martin Collins, Richie O’Sullivan, Ger O’Donovan and Clive Sweetnam will spearhead their challenge again, under Kevin O’Driscoll, but they have found it difficult to rekindle last season’s spark in the league, as reigning champions, losing three games out of five, including a first-round clash with Colum’s.
St Colum’s have also played five games in the league, winning three. Dan Hurley is again in charge, with the Cronins, Colm and Martin, but the addition of Terry O’Neill as assistant coach should be beneficial.
Eoin O’Sullivan has returned from England but they will look for big performances from the regulars David O’Mahony, Denis and Shane McSweeney and Ben Murphy. Of course the big question is the availability of Alan O’Connor, who hasn’t played in the league but is doing recovery with the Cork panel.
Prediction: Colum’s have had the upperhand in clashes between the sides in recent seasons and if Alan O’Connor lines out, then they must be fancied, but if the Kilmacs can regain their hunger, then last year’s experience might just shade it in their favour.
Tadhg MacCarthaigh v St James
Mention MacCarthaigh’s and everybody says the three O’Driscoll brothers, which is, of course, totally unfair to the other players on the panel but is perfectly understandable. The Caheragh lads, without their three Cork players, have won two of their four league games, but will be a different proposition in the championship.
Just a few short years ago they were on the verge of winning the county but have slipped a lot since then. James O’Donovan trains the present side, helped by Kieran O’Neill and Liam O’Donovan, but injuries will see them without Leon Burke and Don McCarthy.
The return of Mark O’Driscoll, who missed all of last season, is a plus and they will expect big performances from Mark Barrett and Colm O’Sullivan. MacCarthaigh’s beat Clonakilty in the first round last year but were disappointed to lose to Kilmac in round three.
St James seem to punch above their weight in the early rounds each season but mid-summer does them few favours. They looked impressive when beating Plunkett’s last season but then lost to Castlehaven.
They welcome back Kieran O’Driscoll from Kildare and have a new manager in Finbarr McCarthy, whose incredible service as a player may transfer itself to the sideline. They will still be relying on stalwarts like Kevin O’Brien, Micheál McCarthy and Mark Evans to pull them through. In the league they are unbeaten, winning two and drawing one, including a good win over Colum’s.
Prediction: This is a hard one to call. If the three O’Driscolls perform to the peak of their ability, it would be hard to see anything other than a Caheragh win but St James are great battlers and won’t be found wanting.
Barryroe v Muintir Bháire
This looks like being a clash between two sides who impressed last season but have been devastated since by retirements and injuries.
The big news from the Muintir camp is that the legendary Frank Arundel has finally called it a day, despite being nominated for ‘Player of the Year’ in 2015 and winning a junior All-Star. He will be a huge loss and on top of that the injury bug has struck big time with top players like the two O’Dwyers and Brendan Burke all laid low.
On the positive side is the return of Teddy O’Sullivan from Australia and he has been in great form in the league. However, they have lost their three league encounters to date. Kieran Hourihane, manager and trainer, is the man tasked with cobbling a side together for Sunday.
Like Muintir, Barryroe have lost a host of players from last season, including top performers Denis Harrington, John O’Regan, Mike O’Brien and Eamonn McCarthy.
The result is that they will have to field about ten of the U21s who have been successful with Ibane Gaels, although young star David Kiely is exam-tied.
The team struggled to field 17 players in a recent league game, and in their three games to date, they have won one, drawn one and lost one. Arthur Tobin, Dinsy Whelton and Kevin McCarthy have the onerous job of running both the football and hurling teams.
Prediction: With both sides deprived of so many of last season’s stars, this is a hard one to predict, but the success of Ibane’s U21s – due to play the South West U21 ‘B’ final against Bandon – may just swing the issue in favour of the Barryroe men.