South West champions will improve from 2016 experiences, insists Casey
By Ger McCarthy
ALTHOUGH they came up short in the county decider, newly crowned West Cork U21A football champions Ilen Rovers enjoyed a stellar 2016 and could be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.
Sean Casey oversaw the Rath/Baltimore club’s Carbery divisional success before overcoming Fermoy and Ballincollig to reach a U21A county final. An emerging St. Finbarr’s, inspired by Stephen Sherlock’s seven-point haul, proved too strong and ended the West Cork side’s campaign on a losing note at Páirc Uí Rinn.
That defeat should take nothing away from the huge strides Ilen have made over the past 12 months, something Ilen’s manager is eager to build on next year.
‘We felt we were one of the better U21 sides in West Cork at the beginning of the season but not sure if we would be able to win the Carbery championship,’ admitted Sean Casey.
‘It was very hard to get players together at the start of the year but the tough run we had and our ability to eke out narrow wins helped build momentum which we carried all the way into the county section. As the year progressed we just improved with every game.
‘A West Cork semi-final victory over Clonakilty was a huge boost to our confidence. Beating a Clon team that had dominated the grade for the past few seasons definitely drove us on. We were fortunate to be back to full strength on the day of the match whereas they (Clon) weren’t at the time. It was a deserved win and the lads played superbly.’
Sean O’Donovan, Liam Coombes and Peter O’Driscoll’s form gave Ilen a fighting chance, albeit as underdogs, heading into the West Cork decider. Newcestown stood between Rovers and a U21 title where it took a crucial Liam Coombes first half goal to tip the balance in Ilen’s favour. Registering a 1-8 to 0-10 victory, Rovers celebrated a deserved Carbery success ahead of an unexpected county campaign.
‘Defeating Newcestown in the West Cork final was our biggest win of the year,’ Casey stated.
‘They (Newcestown) are always hard to beat in the U21 grade and never make things easy for you. It was the kind of game Ilen Rovers would have found hard to get through in the past but once again, we did what we had to do and managed to get the win down in Drimoleague.
‘On the day, we were missing two key men in Stephen Leonard and Donal Collins who were both out injured. They were huge losses going into a West Cork final but it just goes to show the depth to our panel that we were still able to win. It’s certainly a good sign for the future.’
Following that divisional triumph, winning a quarter and semi-final before qualifying for a county decider underlined Sean Casey’s side’s growing confidence. Despite disappointment at the final hurdle, Ilen proved they belonged at county level and will be anxious to maintain that level of consistency in 2017 provided the current championship structures remain intact.
‘The biggest thing we took from this past year is the fact Ilen competed in seven U21 championship games and that will certainly stand to us going forward,’ Sean Casey commented.
‘Playing that many games was huge for our players’ development as well as lifting a trophy. There are rumours swirling of possibly making the U21 grade into a single county championship which I would totally disagree with. The West Cork championship is a great competition and needs to stay.
‘2016 was simply a brilliant year for our lads. Hopefully they now realise that even more success is possible with a bit more hard work and dedication. There should be eight or nine of the U21 panel capable of moving into the senior setup. Our challenge is to make sure that these guys get their chance and keep playing as often as they can. Hopefully, our seniors will kick on and benefit from the U21 lads involvement.’