Ahead of the big kick off this weekend in the West Cork League, GER McCARTHY talks us through the promotion and relegation changes, the introduction of the new Championship and how it works, as well as the contenders to watch out for
THE West Cork League (WCL) is back for another season with Drinagh Rangers looking to retain their position as the top club in the region.
WCL football returns with a full round of league fixtures scheduled for completion this weekend. Ahead of the new campaign, changes to the WCL format, updated relegation and promotion permutations plus the return of the U18 division suggests an intriguing nine months of action lies in store.
A handful of Parkway Hotel-Maybury Coaches Cup ties plus the Michael Holland season-opener have already been completed but the beginning of the Premier Division and newly expanded WCL Championship sees the majority of West Cork’s football clubs returning to the pitch over the next few days.
Premier Division: The top tier, PremierHiSpecCars.com Premier Division, comprising of reigning champions Drinagh Rangers plus Ballydehob, Bunratty United, Clonakilty AFC, Clonakilty Town, Dunmanway Town, Lyre Rovers, Spartak Mossgrove and Togher Celtic retains its normal home and away fixture-list.
One change will see whoever finishes second from bottom entering a play-off against the runners-up in the WCL Championship and a chance to retain their Premier Division status. The occupants of last place in the division will automatically be relegated.
Unsurprisingly, Drinagh Rangers start as overwhelming favourites to retain the title on the back of a remarkable 2017 in which the Canon Crowley Park side annexed the Premier Division, Premier Division Cup, Beamish Cup, Maybury Coaches-Parkway Hotel Cup and Michael Cronin Cup trophies.
Despite retaining the Michael Cronin Cup last Friday evening, Rangers will be hard pressed to match those amazing achievements and likely to focus their attentions on the Premier Division. A host of challengers are lining up for a shot at Drinagh however and will be eager to unseat the champions.
Newcomers Bunratty United and Clonakilty Town look well positioned to make their mark in the WCL’s top flight following impressive records in last season’s Division 1. A free-scoring Bunratty finished in top spot, four points ahead of Clonakilty Town. A squad of players promoted through the Schull club’s youth ranks will relish an opportunity to take on some of the region’s best teams.
Lyre Rovers finished runners-up to Drinagh in both league and Beamish Cup last term. Retaining the majority of that squad means Rovers are likely to be Rangers’ biggest challengers once again in 2019. Spartak Mossgrove, Togher Celtic, Ballydehob and Dunmanway Town are each capable of improving on last season’s records, especially Spartak, who finished third and lost only twice on their Premier debut.
A return of the ‘Clonakilty Classico’ should ensure plenty of drama when Clon AFC and Clon Town renew rivalries later this term. Town may struggle in the opening months due to GAA commitments but a full-strength line-up should more than hold their own in the Premier Division. Clonakilty AFC will be anxious to put a miserable 2017-18 campaign behind them with a mixture of experienced and youthful players looking to avoid another relegation battle.
WCL Championship: The newly renamed second tier of West Cork League football, the WCL Championship, will be contested by Aultagh Celtic, Baltimore, Bantry Bay Rovers, Castlelack, Castletown Celtic, Drinagh Rangers B, Dunmanway Town B, Durrus, Kilbrittain Rovers, Lyre Rovers B, Mizen AFC, Skibbereen and Sullane.
Thankfully, Bantry Bay Rovers will be part of this season’s WCL Championship division. Despite a thriving underage set-up and reaching a Beamish Cup final at Turner’s Cross two seasons ago, the Kealkil club’s junior team were unsure of entering the forthcoming campaign up until last weekend.
Aside from off-field issues there is plenty to look forward to in what should be a fascinating division complete with newly introduced end-of-season play-offs.
A change to the previous format will see each of the 13 WCL Championship clubs facing each other once during the first half of the season. At the end of that schedule, the top six-ranked clubs will breakaway (carrying their points total) and play one another (once) to decide the Championship title-winners.
Following that, the runners-up berth in the Championship will be decided by a set of play-offs. Whoever finishes second will be at home to the fifth placed club in one semi-final while third will host fourth in the other semi-final. The two winners will meet to decide who grabs the coveted runner-up spot ahead of a meeting with the second-from-bottom club in the Premier Division and a chance to gain promotion to the top tier.
All the clubs that finish in the bottom half of the WCL Championship will contest a brand new mini-league for the Division 2 League trophy, facing each other once.
Alterations to the traditional West Cork League set-up guarantee every competing Championship club 16 fixtures, similar to their Premier Division counterparts.
Introducing play-offs is an attempt to keep the league(s) competitive up to the final weeks of the season.
A similar set-up worked well during this past summers’ West Cork Masters League when teams of comparable ability played off against one another towards the end of the campaign and made for an entertaining finale.
Crookstown are another club that will not be part of this season’s WCL but their absence is offset by the arrival of newcomers Kibrittain Rovers who join the league ranks for the first time and are hopeful of a positive season. Castletown Celtic are expected to be amongst the championship frontrunners with 2018 Division 2 champions Lyre Rovers B and runners-up Sullane also capable of making an impression. A lot of eyes will be on Skibbereen as the Baltimore Road club looks to build on a productive end to the previous campaign.
Although there was interest in forming a U19 League, the traditional U18 age-grade will continue once again this year. Riverside Athletic won the 2018 West Cork U18 League following a high-scoring campaign and impressive comeback victory over Dunmanway Town in the play-off final.
Expect plenty of surprise results, outstanding individual performances and one or two controversies over the coming season. You can follow all the action every week in the Southern Star.