BY DENIS HURLEY
SATURDAY’S clash with Duhallow in Páirc Uí Rinn (5.15pm) represents a second straight county senior football championship quarter-final for Clonakilty.
However, nobody in the Brewery Town is settling for just reaching the last eight and hopes are robust that a nine-year gap back to the last semi-final appearance can be breached.
Wins over fellow West Cork sides Newcestown in April and O’Donovan Rossa last month have brought Clon to this stage, with their north-western divisional opponents having been finalists last year, losing out to St Finbarr’s.
Having won the title in 2009, Clon made it back to the last four a year later, losing to Nemo Rangers, who would take the crown. They struggled to match those achievements in the years that followed though, even needing to beat Aghada in a 2015 relegation play-off to preserve senior status.
However, things have improved since then as a crop of talented youngsters with Carbery U21 medals have come on stream. Among them is 24-year-old Martin Scally and he is keen to help Clon to push on.
‘Every team goes through phases and there are changes over the years,’ he says.
‘We have a young team, the lads who won the West Cork U21s are backboning the senior side now. Some lads are still only 21 but they’ve been senior since they were 18 and I think we’re coming of age.
‘Fellas are maturing and taking more responsibility. When you come on first, you see the older lads carrying the team, still making the hard runs and tackles in the 60th minute. It’s one thing to call yourself a senior player but you have to be able to back it up.’
Scally, whose family own the popular SuperValu in Clon, has recently completed a Master’s degree in business and economics and is working at Deep South, a bar on Grand Parade in Cork.
He cites reaching the 2017 Kelleher Shield final, which Clon lost to Ballincollig after extra time, as signalling the turning point in their fortunes.
‘When we were down in the dumps, nothing seemed to be going right,’ he says, ‘but things began to change slowly but surely.
‘We did alright in the Kelleher Shield in 2017 and got to the final of that, that was the first stage, then we got to the quarter-finals last year. It was kind of a monkey on our backs that the only teams we had beaten in the last few years were St Nick’s and Aghada but last year we beat Bishopstown and Newcestown and began to show again that we were good enough and could play good football.
‘Now it’s consistency we’re looking for.’
Their run came to an end with a ten-point loss to Carbery Rangers in the last eight, but Scally feels it was educational.
‘Ross have been on the road a long time, they have plenty of experience,’ he says.
‘A game like that does stand to you, it was our first quarter-final in a while and it was a new experience for a lot us. Maybe the occasion got to us a bit but we definitely won’t be making that mistake again.’
Guiding Clon’s fortunes is Bandon native Colm Aherne, whom Scally credits with injecting a bit of steel.
‘Colm brought a bit of backbone,’ he says.
‘There’s often talk that Clon play nice football but can be a bit soft, but any softness is gone now and we’re not taking anything lying down.
‘He has a winning mentality, he won two counties with Bandon and now they’re just below senior. There’s an air of professionalism and the club have been great too, anything we’ve wanted we’ve been given.’
What they want now is a semi-final spot, though that’s something that must be earned rather than given.
‘Getting to a quarter-final is well and good, but you shouldn’t be happy just to be there,’ Scally says.
‘You always want to be the best and we’re definitely not there just to make up the numbers.
‘Duhallow got to the final last year and they’ve been knocking on the door for a few years. To everyone outside the team, we’ll be underdogs but if you’re going in not believing you can win, why are you there in the first place?’