Bandon’s treble-winning hockey captain Clinton Sweetnam talks to KIERAN McCARTHY about the club’s terrific season, the next challenge and how his likeness for his rugby brother Darren gained him free entry to a Cork nightclub
BEING the older brother of Munster rugby’s Darren Sweetnam has it perks. Well, to be more exact, it was one perk on one night and he just went with it.
‘I got in free to a nightclub once in Cork because they thought I was Darren – that’s the only gain I’ve made from his fame,’ Clinton laughs.
He’s had plenty of selfie requests, too.
The two brothers from Clounties outside Dunmanway, separated by three years, are almost carbon copies of one another.
‘I always gauge how well Darren is doing by how often I get mistaken for him,’ Clinton explains.
‘You’d be walking down the street and you’d hear people nudge each other and say, “that’s Darren Sweetnam over there”. It happens more when Darren’s going well.’
There was the time too in a Las Vegas nightclub when Clinton was making his way back home after a year in Vancouver when he was approached by a stranger who spotted the striking similarities. This random Irish man on the west coast of the States told Clinton he played hurling against Darren once, and then he faded off into the crowd.
Perhaps now it’s Darren’s turn to be mistaken for Clinton, given the season the oldest brother has enjoyed as captain of Bandon Hockey Club’s men’s team. They won the treble of the Munster Senior Hockey League, Munster Senior Hockey Cup and Irish Hockey Trophy.
It was one of those seasons you dream of, and to recognise that achievement Clinton was presented with a Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star Award for May recently.
That’s one for the trophy cabinet and it equals the monthly award Darren won in February 2016. It’s 1-1.
Bandon lost only one game last season. They drew one. And they won all the rest. They were the best team in Munster.
They set out their stall in their opening league game. Losing 2-0 away to Church of Ireland B with seven minutes left, the defence of their league title was starting with more of a whimper than a bang.
Three goals in the next few minutes changed all that. They won 3-2.
‘That was an important moment even though it was the first game of the season,’ Clinton says.
‘If we had got the season off to a losing note, we’d have been behind from the start. But we didn’t, we won. It gave us great belief.
‘At the start of the season it can be hard to get guys out but that win lifted the spirits and the ball starting rolling.
‘I still think if we had only drawn that game it could have been a very different season.
‘Historically, Bandon are a team that wouldn’t be known to do that, to come back like that, so it just got us off to the ideal start. It was a good boost for everyone.’
Another huge boost for the team last season was the return of Clinton. He had spent that year in Vancouver but couldn’t resist the call of home. He was made captain, too. It was a wise choice.
He led from the back this past season and along with player-coach Alastair Smith, top goal-scorer David Smith, goalkeeper Conor Robinson, experienced defender Chris Wood and rising star David Jennings, this Bandon team has lots of quality.
The league was practically in the bag in February after back-to-back wins over UCC, their closest rival, and the only team to beat Bandon last season. Even at that, Bandon’s Peard Cup semi-final loss was on penalty strokes after a 0-0 draw.
In April Bandon won the Irish Hockey Trophy final, beating Portrane 3-1 in the shoot-out after a 2-2 draw, Sweetnam scoring. It was victory at the fourth attempt for the West Cork men who lost this final in 2014, ’15 and ’16.
One week later they completed the treble when they beat Limerick 4-2 to win the Munster Senior Cup.
‘If you had offered me any of the three at the start of the season I would have taken the Irish Hockey Trophy,’ Clinton explains.
‘It was always the one I wanted.
‘We have a lot of history with the Irish Hockey Trophy. We got to the final in three of the previous four years and lost each time. That was the main trophy I targeted at the start.
‘If you ask Alastair he’d say the Munster Senior Cup is the most important because Bandon had never won that before. No team in the club has won that before. That was great to win. But the Irish Hockey Trophy was the one I wanted.’
Clinton wants to test himself against the best hockey players in the country. That drive is only natural for a former Irish international.
He won his one and only cap for Ireland when they beat Egypt 6-3 in July 2011. At the time he was studying a Masters in UCD and playing hockey with the college. He was a prospect, in and around the Irish senior team, but it didn’t work out.
‘Playing at that level requires a lot of dedication and if you look at the majority of fellas involved, they are either playing professionally abroad or they are in college,’ Clinton says.
‘When I finished college I probably wasn’t good enough to play abroad. Once work got busy it would have been nearly impossible to keep both of them going together. And I wasn’t probably good enough too.’
Seven years on he is a leader in a Bandon treble-winning team and he has set his sights high for the 2018/19 season when the new Irish Hockey League Division 2 kicks off.
‘At the moment you have the Irish hockey league, the EYHL, which is for the top ten teams in Ireland, they all play in that full-time,’ he explains.
‘What they have brought in for next season is an IHL Division 2, the next eight teams split into two groups of four so you’re guaranteed six games and hopefully a finals weekend.’
IHL Division 2 games will be interspersed throughout the season and Sweetnam can’t wait.
‘That’s what we will target next season,’ he says.
‘It will be a good measuring stick to see where we stand. We are one of the top teams in Munster and now we get to see where we compare to other teams around the country.
‘If we do well in that we could win promotion to the EYHL. That’s a big commitment, 18 games, nine away, that’s the big time. That’s why I see next season as a big one, we’ll see what level we are at.
‘My motto is that if we are good enough to qualify for the EYHL then we have to go and play it. It would be a huge step up from what we are right now. Everything would need to move up a few levels. That’s the challenge – to see how good we are and can we make the step up?’
Busy times ahead for this software engineer living in Bandon who, he says tongue in cheek, taught his younger brother all he knew.
And he’ll wait for the call from Darren when he is ushered free into a nightclub because they think he’s Clinton.