BY GER McCARTHY
THE 2016-17 West Cork leagues get underway this weekend with a full programme of fixtures headlined by the PremierHiSpecCars.com Premier Division meeting of Clonakilty AFC and Drinagh Rangers.
What a cracking season of West Cork football we have in prospect with Premier Division champions Riverside Athletic beginning the defence of their trophy against perennial strugglers Leeside this Sunday.
Last season proved a fairytale for the Castletownkenneigh-based squad who claimed the league crown thanks to a record of 11 wins and five draws from their 16 outings. Athletic face a massive task in attempting to win back-to-back championships so nothing less than three points will suffice against their Inchigeela opponents.
Two clubs capable of pushing Riverside for top honours are last season’s runners-up Drinagh Rangers plus an up-and-coming Clonakilty AFC who finished third in 2015-16. Clon and Drinagh meet in Inchydoney this weekend and it should be a game worth attending if last season’s corresponding fixtures are anything to go by. Drinagh defeated Clon 3-2 on their home pitch and won the return game 5-3 in Canon Crowley Park, suggesting plenty of goals are likely once again.
Elsewhere in the Premier Division, a Togher Celtic side that finished fourth the previous term take on Bantry Bay Rovers in Kealkil. Rovers gained promotion from Division 1 and will be anxious to get off to a positive start but may have to settle for a share of the spoils.
Division 1 champions Ballydehob are back in the top tier and should provide Dunmanway Town with an early test of their title credentials in Mohona on Tuesday. Bunratty United are not in action this weekend but are another exciting team to watch out for this season.
The 2016-17 OBrienWaterServices.com Division 1 title-race should make for fascinating viewing with Skibbereen looking to regroup and gain promotion back to the Premier Division at the first time of asking.
The Baltimore Road club faces a difficult game away to Kilmichael Rovers and avoiding defeat in Inchisine would represent a positive start.
Lyre Rovers and Baltimore are capable of challenging for promotion and the two club’s opening day meeting in Lyre will be a closely-fought game. In the same division, Sullane host Spartak Mossgrove while Beamish Cup holders Crookstown are up against Mizen. Two home victories look the likeliest outcome from those encounters.
West Cork League Division 2 is scheduled to contain 11 clubs and where consistency will be the key to gaining promotion from the third tier. Keep an eye on Drinagh Rangers B, Castletown Celtic and Clonakilty Town as all three, provided they have their strongest teams available, possess enough quality to contest for top honours.
Another long season awaits, hopefully not as badly affected by the weather as in previous campaigns, so there has never been a better time to go out and support your local club. Let the battle commence.