FORMER West Cork League and current West Cork Schoolboys League club Kilmichael Rovers are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year.
It’s quarter of a century since a group of Kilmichael residents and football enthusiasts convened in a meeting room above Barrett’s public house in Coppeen. Pat Foley was present that night and was elected chairman of the newly-formed Kilmichael Rovers.
Twenty-five years on and, although much has changed both on and off the field, Foley remains as dedicated as ever in the same committee role he was originally elected.
‘There were quite a few local lads who were playing for other clubs in the Kilmichael area at that time back in 1995,’ Foley explained to The Southern Star.
‘I was playing with Togher and another couple of lads were lining out for Dunmanway Town. It was really just a case of why have so many Kilmichael lads playing for different clubs when we might be able to start up a team of our own. There was no team in Kilmichael so that’s where it all started, that night in Barrett’s.
‘We entered the West Cork League and Barrett’s even managed to help us sort a pitch. It needed a lot of work but we were thankful to get it and played there for the first two years.’
Kilmichael’s early years saw them reach a divisional final only to lose 3-2 to Lyre Rovers after extra-time. A red card and missed penalty didn’t help Rovers’ cause on that occasion but the signs were positive and results steadily improved.
The 1997-98 season proved a turning point when the club’s committee sourced a new pitch within the Kilmichael parish. The O’Callaghan family allowed Rovers to set up a new playing field in Inchisine and they have remained there ever since.
‘Setting up a home at Klondyke Park in Inchisine was absolutely huge for us,’ Foley explained.
‘We had to leave our old pitch and were searching for a new ground. It was important to us to try and get a pitch within the parish itself. That’s when we approached Con O’Callaghan and he generously told us to pick a field from his land and work away. Only for Con and the O’Callaghan family, as we were really struggling at the time, Kilmichael Rovers would not be in existence today. It was a huge moment in the club’s history.’
It was the 1999-2000 campaign where Kilmichael finally began to make their mark in West Cork League circles. The Inchisine side finished runners-up to Sullane in Division 2 but that was also the year Rovers embarked on a memorable Beamish Cup run that made other WCL clubs sit up and take notice.
‘That 2000 Beamish Cup run helped gel the players and was massive for the club,’ the Rovers’ chairman stated.
‘It was the season a lot of players came back from the likes of Guranne and Clondrohid to play for us so it was more or less all Kilmichael lads representing the club that season. It galvanised the club, that Beamish Cup run, and showed we were a soccer club in our own right even though we are based in a predominantly GAA parish.
‘Looking back, we should have won it. We were after beating Castletown Celtic twice in the league and leading 1-0 with five minutes to go. They scored twice in the last few minutes which was heart-breaking. It was still a great achievement for a Division 2 club to get to a Beamish Cup final and we pushed on from there.’
Kilmichael kicked on after that cup final appearance, claiming the WCL First Division title before going up to the Premier Division and securing the runners-up berth the following year. Unfortunately, Rovers stagnated until 2010 when they defeated WCL giants Drinagh Rangers in the Carling (League) Cup final and became First Division champions once again in 2014.
‘Anytime you beat the likes of Drinagh for a trophy is special but winning the First Division in 2014 was equally important,’ Foley said.
‘We headed into our final league game of the season against (second placed) Bunratty United needing a draw to become champions. We were losing heading into the last couple of minutes when we scored with the last kick of the game, four minutes into injury-time. That was another massive day out for us.’
Nowadays, although they still field teams in the West Cork Schoolboys League, Kilmichael Rovers senior set-up ply their trade in Cork’s AUL. Rovers found they were as close to playing games in the city as they were in West Cork so decided to switch leagues in 2016.
‘We had a great relationship with the West Cork League but just wanted a new challenge and playing games in the Cork AUL meant less travelling,’ Foley explained.
‘The players wanted to make the move as a lot of them had already featured in the AUL with the likes of Macroom and Coachford. It was as much taking on a new challenge as anything else.
‘The move to the Cork AUL has worked out very well for us after getting promoted in our first three seasons and making it to the Murphy’s Stout Premier A League Premier Division. We only lost out on two league trophies by a couple of points as well.
‘It’s all local players, bar one or two, that are lining out for Kilmichael. That’s important to us. What is even better is the fact most of the current team have come through our underage (section).’
Rovers’ switch to the AUL has also benefited the club’s women’s team who had previously featured in the West Cork League. Formed in 2012, Kilmichael won the 2017 GOS Auto Accessories (Macroom) Women’s Cup before making the same switch as their male counterparts.
Six weeks ago, Kilmichael added a Cork Womens and Schoolgirls Soccer League (CWSSL) Senior Division 1B title to their trophy cabinet after a terrific campaign in which they lost only once.
At schoolboys’ level, Kilmichael remain an integral part of the West Cork Schoolboys League and claimed the 2019 U14 Division 1 and U12 Premier League Group B titles. Catering for over 50 schoolchildren, the next generation of Kilmichael men’s and women’s players will be eager to build on the club’s first 25 years and carve out their own piece of history for the Inchisine club.