WITH their place in the quarter-finals already assured, Carbery Rangers have a free shot against county champions St Finbarr’s in their final Group A Premier SFC game this Sunday in Ballinascarthy (4pm).
For the first time since the championship was revamped, Ross will emerge from the group stage and fight it out at the business end – and that is progress for a new-look team.
In their previous two campaigns (2020 and ’21) they won only one out of six group games, including losing all three last season, so this year is already progress. This weekend’s clash with the Barrs is a chance to gauge where this re-energised Ross team, with its injection of youth, stands in the pecking order right now. There are still several survivors from Rangers’ greatest day – their historic Cork SFC 2016 triumph – but this team is soldiering through a transitional phase.
In the recent Group A win against Éire Óg, six players who helped Ross win the 2021 Carbery U21A football final, and that was the club’s first success at this level since 1995, played a role. Keelan Scannell, Patrick Hurley, Darragh Hayes and Peadar O’Rourke all started, while Jack O’Regan and Barry Kerr both came on.
‘We are in a good place,’ captain Thomas O’Rourke told this week’s Star Sport Podcast.
‘We’ve had two bad seasons prior to this in terms of results. A lot of players have now gained a lot of experience playing championship football. A lot of players have more experience of playing adult football in general.
‘We had that success when we were used to being in the latter stages of the championship, but a lot of that team has hung up their boots or moved on, so we have come again with a newer and younger panel, mainly based on the U21 success at West Cork level. That team makes up the basis of our panel now so we have a very young panel.
‘Obviously, a lot of players need to gain experience and get up to this level, and they are definitely getting there. We won’t know until we come up against the higher level teams in the knock-out stages.’
The signs are encouraging so far this season. Carbery Rangers have beaten both Carrigaline and Éire Óg in Group A, and this team has found its feet after a few tough seasons. O’Rourke, one of the links to the 2016 county-winning legends, explains that the step-up to senior football takes time.
‘There is definitely a change this season. It really is down to that extra year of playing at adult level. It does take a bit of adjustment. I know myself it takes time to adjust from moving from underage level to adult,’ the Ross captain said.
‘A lot of these guys are stepping into it in their first year and performing excellently, it has to be said. It’s very promising for the future. If these fellas can get to this level already hopefully they can drive it on going forward.’
The young guns have freshened up Declan Hayes’ senior panel. They are keeping the more established figures on their toes. It’s a new journey, O’Rourke says, but key too are the experienced figures who can smoothen this transition. Guys like O’Rourke, Brian Shanahan, John O’Rourke, Alan Jennings, Jerry O’Riordan, Paul Shanahan and John Hayes who were all part of a Rangers’ team that was a familiar face in county semi-finals and finals.
Their target this season was to reach the knockout stage. Mission accomplished. That was secured with their 2-11 to 1-12 win against Éire Óg last month – and this is a game where we can highlight Rangers’ progress.
Twelve months earlier, at the same Bandon venue, Éire Óg beat Ross by 1-15 to 1-9 in the Premier SFC group stages. The Mid Cork men were full value for that win. Fast forward 11 months and the tables were turned. Proof that Ross are on the right track.
‘When we saw we got Éire Óg in the group again we knew it was going to be a very tough test, especially when they beat us fairly well last year. That was a real eye-opener for us, it showed how far we were off it at the time,’ O’Rourke said.
‘It’s a combination of things – the experience gained by everyone playing under the new system with Declan Hayes in charge. We have our system well and truly ironed out now.
‘Also, Brendan Walsh of Guerilla Fitness came in as our strength and conditioning coach and he has done savage work with us throughout the whole season. Our fitness levels, if you compare them to last year, are through the roof. That’s been a major asset to us in the last ten minutes of games. We are definitely seeing that pay off in the final minutes of matches, helping us to get those wins.
‘We also know that’s the base, minimum standard if we want to be competitive in this championship, that we need to be as fit as every other team.’
Carbery Rangers now have the chance to see exactly where they stand when they take on the Cork and Munster champions this Sunday, looking for more indicators that they are trending upwards.