HOME advantage could be Skibbereen’s secret weapon in Sunday’s Munster Junior Clubs’ Challenge Cup semi-final at home to Kilfeacle (2pm).
While Skibb have struggled in the first half of their Munster Junior League Division 1 campaign, winning only twice in seven games to leave them in relegation trouble, the West Cork side has impressed in the Challenge Cup and they’re now one win away from a first final appearance in this competition.
Ahead of Sunday’s semi-final Skibbereen will take confidence that their two wins in this season’s Challenge Cup have both come at home to Division 1 teams (St Senan’s and Abbeyfeale), who are both mid-table in the league.
‘We seem to be able to up ourselves for cup games, one-off matches but it hasn’t happened for us yet in the league, especially away from home,’ Skibb manager John Hayes admitted.
‘We have never been to the final of the Challenge Cup, all the top sides are in it, so it would be great to get to the final and win it.
‘It’s hard to put our finger on why our away form hasn’t been great. In the junior league every team targets its home games because when you are away from home you might be down a few bodies, there’s travelling involved and we have a lot of new, young players too.’
But forgetting the league form, Skibb’s home wins against Abbeyfeale (19-5, thanks to tries from Kieran Shannon, Richie Byrnes and Tom Bushe with Denis McCarthy kicking two conversions) and St Senan’s (38-22 in the quarter-final, with tries from Mike Calnan, David Jennings, Jack O’Driscoll and Raymond Jardine, and Denis McCarthy scoring 18 points) have brought the best out of Skibb. More of the same is needed at The Showgrounds this Sunday, says Hayes.
‘It’s a 50-50 game and Kilfeacle are going well but we consider ourselves very hard to beat at home,’ he said.
‘We beat St Senan’s and Abbeyfeale in the last two rounds, so we have beaten two good sides at home – and that’s grounds for confidence. We can beat the top sides when we play well.
‘We have the players, the talent is there.’
With Mark Hogan, who previously did such great work with the U18s in the club, now involved in the junior side, playing a key role in bringing through the younger talent, as well as coaches Declan Coppinger and Denis McCarthy, Skibb believe they have a structure in place to make the most of the up-and-coming young players.
The club’s U16s and U18s have both qualified for the Munster Pan Cup play-offs – Skibb are the only club in South Munster to achieve this – while former young players like Liam and Gavin Coombes and Dave McCarthy are making impressions further up the ladder.
‘There is big talent coming through but it will take a few years to develop that and see the results because the junior league is a tough league to play in and it takes time. We’ve made a conscious decision to give young guys a chance,’ Hayes explained.
Tadhg Cullinane (18) is an example of a young player being given a chance with Skibb and making an impression this season.
He has started a lot of games as tight head prop and has really stepped up against experienced guys.
Other Skibb players to catch the eye in the first half of the season are centre Eric Donnelly who is playing quite well, Mike Limerick at scrum half, while captain Kieran Shannon carries lot of ball.
Hopefully, Skibbereen can click again at home in the cup this Sunday to advance to the Challenge Cup final, and that might also kickstart an upturn in league form when Division 1 resumes in the middle of January.