BY TOM LYONS
AT the beginning of the season very few people would have forecasted the final pairing of Carbery Rangers and Ilen Rovers in the Clona Milk South West U21A football championship.
Champions Dohenys, Clonakilty and Castlehaven would have topped the list of favourites but they all fell by the wayside as the weather and unplayable pitches took their toll on the championship.
Ilen Rovers took a big scalp in the quarter-final when they lowered the colours of a fancied Clonakilty side, 1-10 to 0-12, before beating Castlehaven in the semi-final, 2-7 to 1-4, with Stephen Leonard the star man in both games.
Carbery Rangers, rather amazingly considering their outstanding record in adult football, haven’t won the South West U21A title since 1995. Since then the club has progressed from junior football in West Cork to senior county champions, but the missing trophy was always the Liam Farr U21 Cup.
They beat reigning champions Dohenys in the quarter-final by 1-15 to 1-7 with Darragh Hayes accounting for 1-5, and got the better of Ahán Gaels in last weekend’s semi-final, 1-8 to 1-7. Rob Hegarty at full back was man-of-the-match, with Patrick Hurley getting the important goal.
Whereas Rangers haven’t won the title since distant 1995, Ilen were champions two years ago, 2016, when they beat Newcestown in the final by a single point, 1-8 to 0-10. They reached the county final that year. Sunday’s team will feature six players who started the 2016 final – goalkeeper Emmett Hourihane, Kevin Minihane, Eoin O’Driscoll, Tom Bushe, Sean Minihane and Peter O’Driscoll, while Joseph Hickey and Hughie O’Neill came on as subs that day. Stephen Leonard missed the final through injury.
The above nine players will form a very strong backbone on the Ilen team on Sunday and will be joined by talented newcomers like Paddy O’Driscoll, Matthew Bushe, Aaron O’Sullivan and Donal Collins.
Carbery Rangers will look to senior panellists Rob Hegarty, Mark Hodnett and Cathal O’Rourke for inspiration up the centre and in defence Diarmuid Kerr, Peter Óg Hill, Brendan Kingston, Cian Daly and Cathal Hennessy were outstanding in the semi-final. Stephen O’Donoghue is a fine midfielder, while up front the lively Darragh Hayes, Patrick Hurley, Paul Hodnett, John O’Brien and John O’Brien give good support to O’Rourke.
In their two games to date Ilen have scored 3-17, including extra time against Clonakilty, while conceding 1-16. Top scorer, with two-thirds of their total, is the lethal Stephen Leonard. He kicked 3-9, with 0-5 from frees. Other scorers were Matt (2f) and Tom Bushe and Peter O’Driscoll 0-2 each, Dermot Hegarty and Donal Collins 0-1 each.
Carbery Rangers have totalled 2-23 in their two games, while conceding 2-14. Top scorer is Darragh Hayes with 1-7 (2f) while the other scorers are Cathal O’Rourke 0-5, Patrick Hurley 1-1, Mark Hodnett 0-4f, Paul Hodnett 0-3, Davy O’Donovan, Cathal Hennessy and John O’Brien 0-1 each.
So who will win this intriguing final? The experience of winning the final two years ago, with over half the team still available, will make Ilen favourites and their form against Castlehaven in the semi-final certainly justifies that tag. The one big worry is their over-reliance on the talented Stephen Leonard for scores, having scored all three goals so far. If he is held, or injured, they could be in trouble.
Verdict. Ilen’s experience in winning two years ago could just about sway the issue in their direction.