FOR anybody involved with a sports team, it’s important to be able to measure progress.
In terms of the Clonakilty senior football team, an 0-11 to 0-8 first-round championship defeat to Carbery Rangers was far better than the 2-15 to 1-4 loss to the same opposition a year previously.
Having bounced back from that opening-round defeat by beating Newcestown and then Bishopstown, Clon face a re-match with their Rosscarbery neighbours in Sunday’s quarter-final in Dunmanway (2.15pm).
It provides a chance to assess how much they have improved since April, but Gaelic football isn’t an exact science and, in any case,
Clon also have to contend with the fact that Ross showed signs of getting better too as they beat Ballincolig in round three a fortnight ago.
Clon manager Colm Aherne was heartened by elements of the 1-11 to 0-7 win over Bishopstown, as a young side showed they could deal with the challenge, having already bested Newcestown after extra time in round 2.
While a good start was stymied as they suffered the loss of Seán Nagle to a red card, Clon were able to maintain the upper hand against the city side, with the goal from Seán White in the opening exchanges ensuring that they always possessed a cushion.
‘We had a great start,’ Aherne says.
‘Then after 22 minutes, we were down to 14 men so we couldn’t play as we had intended, it was more about holding the ball. It wasn’t pretty, but you can’t play all-out attack when you’re a man down.
‘At the same time, it was a good to be able to win like that. We have a lot of players and it was pleasing to see them show that they knew what to do and when to do it.’
Having secured victory in his native Bandon, Aherne then had the chance to regard Clon’s quarter-final opponents as Carbery Rangers and Ballincollig took to the Charlie Hurley Park pitch.
Ross triumphed by 0-15 to 0-9, having blitzed into an 0-11 to 0-2 half-time lead, and Aherne was impressed with what he saw.
‘The first half was as good as anything they have produced,’ he says.
‘Ballincollig did claw it back, but there was a strong wind there and they’re a good team too. Ross certainly showed that they’ll be very difficult to beat.
‘They’re a bit more developed than our lads and they’d have it over us in terms of age-profile, I was looking at ours for the Bishopstown game and the average was 23.
‘In saying that, our lads didn’t stand back in April and they won’t be doing that on Sunday.’
Aherne’s opposite number is Ross legend Micheál O’Sullivan and, while he was happy with the first-half performance against Ballincollig, he doesn’t feel that it was a perfect performance.
That nine-point interval advantage was whittled down as the 2014 champions responded well, albeit with the help of the conditions.
‘There was a strong breeze down on the pitch,’ he says, ‘even more so than the top pitch, where we warmed up, or on the bank.
‘We planned to get out of the blocks quickly and we did that but then, by the same token, at half-time we planned to stay on top and maintain that lead and that didn’t happen.
‘Ballincollig are an experienced outfit, obviously, and we expected them to come back at us but there were a lot of sloppy mistakes and you can’t really afford that.
‘It’s probably human nature for the focus to drop when you have a big lead but there’s definitely a lot for us to work on ahead of the next day.’
Given that they had been in cold storage since the Clon game on April, that Ross were able to pick things up to such a level was encouraging.
‘You can’t judge anything on league or challenge games,’ O’Sullivan says.
‘Things worked out well for us in the sense that we got what we wanted, the lads were hungry and they channelled that well, the challenge now is to replicate that on Sunday.
‘A two-week break is perfect, it’s what lads want, they have more than enough training done at this stage.’
After the earlier win and the Ballincollig results, the 2016 county champions will be favourites, but that brings its own pressure.
‘It’s very hard to beat the same team twice in the same championship,’ O’Sullivan says.
‘Clon were good when we played them in the first round and they’ve beaten Newcestown and Bishopstown since then, so they’ll be better on Sunday than they were in April.
‘They’re definitely improving so we can’t have any excuses, we’ll have to be wary of them for sure.’