WE are down to the final four in this year’s Bon Secours Cork Premier senior football championship, with two West Cork clubs still involved.
Castlehaven’s presence in the final four is not surprising considering the club’s appearance in the 2020 decider against Nemo Rangers and an unbeaten run to this year’s quarter-finals. Clonakilty’s semi-final qualification is something of a surprise for a club that last reached the penultimate round 11 years ago.
So here’s my unofficial ranking of the final four in this season’s Premier SFC, listed from most to least likely to claim this year’s Andy Scannell Cup.
- ST FINBARR’S – Perennial challengers St Finbarr’s topped their qualifying group before seeing off newcomers Éire Óg in the last eight. The impressive manner in which the Barr’s took the game to the Ovens club with only 14 players (following a red card) during the final quarter is one of the main reasons they are my favourites to win the county. The second reason is because St Finbarr’s possess so many match-winners in each line of their starting team. Cork midfielder Ian Maguire is enjoying a superb season as are full-back Jamie Burns and centre-back Alan O’Connor. Yet, it’s Steven Sherlock’s constant scoring threat, 0-10 in the win over Éire Óg and 1-24 so far this year, that gives St Finbarr’s the edge in most of their tight matches. Add in the underrated Cillian Myers-Murray and Colm Barrett plus a youthful team capable or running for over 60 minutes and all the ingredients are there for success.
Bottom line, manager Paul O’Keefe has enough raw material at his disposal to win this year’s Premier SFC. The Barr’s must produce back-to-back 60-minute performances from here on in to achieve that goal but no team is better placed to claim the Andy Scannell.
- CASTLEHAVEN – No club has had a tougher path to the last four of this year’s championship than Castlehaven. An uncompromising tussle with Newcestown, a shootout with Éire Óg, a pure battle with Carbery Rangers and a tough examination before pulling away from Valley Rovers in awful conditions. Every time this Castlehaven team has been questioned, James McCarthy’s side has provided an answer.
Their previous county final loss to Nemo Rangers still rankles but Mark Collins, Damien Cahalane and Brian Hurley have been in top form this term and enabled the Haven’s younger players to flourish.
The last time Castlehaven faced the Barr’s in a county semi-final, an epic ensued where penalties were needed to decide the outcome last season. This year’s clash could be just as close. Castlehaven’s defence has played their part in the run to this year’s penultimate round but there can be no margin for error or slip-ups from here on in. Total concentration and zero mistakes at the back could see the Haven go all the way.
- DOUGLAS – Douglas is the highest remaining seeded club in the Premier SFC and earned a deserved bye into the semi-finals. The reason they are behind the Haven and the Barr’s in this listing is because of the aforementioned duo have a far greater experience of reaching the latter stages.
Two quarter-final and one semi-final appearance in the last eight years means Douglas began this year’s Premier SFC without much fanfare. Three consecutive wins over Valley Rovers, Carrigaline and, most notably, reigning champions Nemo Rangers changed the perception from a talented underachieving team to potential county champions.
A solid defence that has conceded a paltry 1-29 (best in the PSFC before the knockout stages) owes much to Sean Powter and Kevin Flahive. Add to that the combined skills of Brian Hartnett, Conor Russell and Daniel Harte and Douglas has every reason to believe this could yet be their year.
- CLONAKILTY – No doubt that the West Cork side are the surprise semi-finalists of this year’s championship. Haulie O’Neill’s squad defied the odds to come from 1-9 to 0-6 down and defeat Duhallow in the last eight but only after a worryingly poor first-half performance. Happy to contain their opponents rather than go for the jugular, it took Clonakilty 14 minutes to register their first score. That simply won’t do against Douglas and Clon know it. On the positive side, the confident manner in which the Brewery Town kicked the game’s last seven points bodes well for their chances of causing another upset. Clonakilty’s progress has been steady rather than spectacular which has allowed a team that amassed 5-25 in the group stages to stay under the radar. Much will depend on Joe Grimes and Dara Ó Sé’s ability to influence the semi-final but in Sean White, Liam O’Donovan, Ross Mannix and goalkeeper Mark White, Clon possess enough quality to win. They have earned the right to be in the last four but Clonakilty must let off the shackles to have a decent chance of making the final.