BY DENIS HURLEY
SATURDAY’S West Cork derby county SFC quarter-final in Rosscarbery signals the ending of two relative droughts, but having reached the last eight, Newcestown and Ilen Rovers will be keen to go even further.
Having reached the county final in 2007, Ilen made it to the semis the following year but haven’t been in the quarter-finals since. In 2011, Newcestown, were within touching distance of overcoming Carbery Rangers in the quarters but ultimately lost out in a replay and this is their first appearance at that stage since then.
Newcestown captain Cárthach Keane admits that quarter-finals – and a place in premier senior in 2020 – would have been accepted at the start of the year but now they sense an opportunity.
‘When it’s in front of you, you obviously want to go as far as you can,’ he says.
‘This is the first time since 2011 that we’ve been in a quarter-final and it’s not a great record. We’ve won a few games but none really that would you stand out and become noticed.
‘I’ve been at weddings up the country and people ask how Newcestown are going and what grade we’re it and you think, “We’re not that bad, that people outside the county would never have heard of us.”
‘We’ve had a few frustrating losses, to Imokilly and Blackrock in the hurling quarter-finals the last two years and we need to start making those games count.’
This year, the hurling campaign ended prematurely after a second-round loss to Newtownshandrum, but the one silver lining was that that cleared the schedule to allow a full focus on football.
‘The last few years, playing football had almost become tough work,’ says Keane, who teaches in St Patrick’s Infants’ Primary School on Gardiner’s Hill in Cork.
‘You’d feel great after hurling but you’d be laid up after a football session, with groin and hamstring pains and even on top of that fellas would choose to go to the alley for a puck but you wouldn’t go and kick balls over the bar.
‘I think was a good thing that we had Valleys Rovers in the football after losing the hurling, it was something to focus on as we lost to them the last time we played them.
‘It took us a while to get going and I think the early start is a factor, I don’t think small clubs thought enough about it when they voted it in.
‘We played Clonakilty in the first round and I don’t think we believed we could beat them – they had been training flat out on a pitch with lights whereas we had no proper lights and no goals to be kicking into.
‘Training in the winter and spring for a game in April puts the clubs without lights at a serious disadvantage.’
On the line that day against Valleys in Bandon, and again in Coachford as Newcestown beat Mallow to reach the quarter-finals, were former Cork players Colm and Brian O’Driscoll, who have come on board to assist manager Tom Wilson.
In many ways, it’s a case of things coming full circle. Keane’s father, club secretary Donie, is a native of Caheragh and two decades ago he enlisted the help of the O’Driscolls’ father, Gene.
‘Gene has a great relationship with our club,’ Cárthach says, ‘in many ways he’s the man who put us where we are in football, he coached the team that won the intermediate in 2001.
‘That team came from nowhere, they were good players but primarily hurlers and he made them footballers.
‘This year, Colm rang me to ask if I’d go down and train Caheragh and I was too busy to do it fully but I ended up going down for a bit and I asked Colm if he’d come up to us if we needed it.
‘Brian came along then too as he has a serious grá for football. They’re seriously impressive and they’ve given us a savage structure, which we didn’t have for the last few years. We have a senior attitude again, like what Martin O’Brien brought in. He left to go with the Cork camogie team and it was a massive loss as he had really raised standards.’
Off the field, Keane is a busy man, too. His wife, former Cork ladies’ footballer Bríd Stack, is expecting their first child next week and both Cárthach and Bríd and his two brothers Fiachra and Fionn are running MyCore Supplements, a thriving start-up supplying health foods and sports nutrition.
‘A few years back, when I was struggling with injuries, I started to take the gym more seriously,’ he says.
‘I thought that the trainer wouldn’t find any holes in my diet but it was a real eye-opener in that I wasn’t taking enough protein and that sparked my interest and I ended up doing courses in nutrition and strength & conditioning.
‘I was giving talks then and I was thinking that if I had supplements in the boot of the car I could make some money from it and I spoke to Richie Power, the former Kilkenny hurler, who’s a rep with Kinetica.
‘He felt that there was a major gap in the market in Cork and it grew from that, Kinetica and Glanbia are our two biggest suppliers. It’s very enjoyable, it’s like a hobby really, doing something you love rather than trying to find something to do in the evenings.’