BY DENIS HURLEY
ROSSA Park in Skibbereen is the venue as Clonakilty begin what they hope will be a journey to a fourth consecutive Clóna Milk Carbery U21AFC title against Bantry Blues on Saturday (4.30pm).
This season Clon go in as favourites to retain the title, especially with so many of last year’s squad still available.
While they didn’t enter the Glenville U21 Invitational Cup, manager Seán Cowhig points out that the decision of the Cork County Board to allow some senior clubs the opportunity to re-grade their second teams to intermediate level has been beneficial for the U21 team.
‘With the second team going up intermediate, it meant that nearly all of the panel were playing county league games,’ he says.
‘As a team, we haven’t played that many games, the weather scuttled most of the plans. We played Carrigaline last week alright but we were missing a few.’
Of the team which won last year’s championship – beating Castlehaven in the final – Clon must plan without Colm Sheehy, Martin Scally and Ian Falvey.
The flip side of that is players of the quality of Jack O’Mahony, Seán White and Jack Cowhig were part of the 2013 divisional-winning U21 side as 17-year-olds and they have amassed a wealth of experience since, providing leadership in the current side.
‘The team has matured together,’ Cowhig says, ‘over the three or four years the age-profile of the team has got older.
‘At the same time, it probably doesn’t really count for anything because, at U21 level, things can change so drastically. All we can do right now is just go out and do our best against Bantry and then take it from there.’
Bantry are unfortunate in that they are missing some key players, with Joe Murphy and Denis O’Leary ruled out with cruciate ligament injuries while Shane Keevers and Tim Foley are unlikely to be available either.
‘A third of our team are out injured,’ says manager Dr Denis Cotter.
‘We’ve been very unlucky with injuries, but you can’t do anything about that. Clon have a very strong team and they’ll be huge favourites so we’re just looking to put in a good performance.
‘We have a few who are U21 this year but the rest are very young, so we’re focused on building a team as much as anything.’