WEST Cork League club Skibbereen AFC is going from strength to strength thanks to a thriving academy and underage set-up.
Success has eluded one of the league’s most famous clubs at junior level in recent years, but there are positive signs at grassroots level, including a huge increase in schoolboys and schoolgirls activities at the Baltimore Road complex over the past couple of months.
These positive developments bode well for Skibb’s immediate and long-term future.
‘I suppose, from the junior side of things, things have been difficult but at least we have been able to keep training away at underage level in pods (groups),’ Skibbereen AFC Chairperson John Allan told The Southern Star.
‘Our underage teams are not competing in their respective leagues at the minute but training one night a week. Regarding our women’s and mini’s soccer, we are training away as normal.
‘The club’s academy is attracting over 100 young children out to the Baltimore Road ground every Sunday morning. That’s been a big success for us. Parents are delighted that there is a facility in Skibbereen to cater for our growing numbers and just having something positive for their children to do right now.
‘All in all, outside of the junior set-up, it’s a case of so far, so good for Skibbereen AFC during Covid.
‘The good news is that extra parents have come forward to offer help with the coaching. That is a great sign as they want to get involved with the club but also, they want to get out in the fresh air and stay active. An hour with the academy on a Sunday morning is great fun for them and great for their kids’ mental health.
‘More and more children are joining up with Skibbereen AFC over the last number of weeks. Word is filtering through in the schools and it is very good to see so many new players and parents getting involved. Going forward, it is a very positive sign for the club.’
Skibbereen is one of the West Cork Schoolboys League’s most successful clubs. Fielding multiple teams at the U12, U13 and U14 age-grades, Skibb have been heavily involved in this year’s Covid-affected season.
Fielding two teams in last August’s SuperValu U12 Cup, Skibbereen A reached the semi-finals only to lose 1-0 to eventual cup champions Bantry Bay Rebels. It was the same story at U13 where Skibbereen Phoenix fell to competition winners Lyre Rovers in the last four. The Baltimore Road side topped their U14 Cup qualifying group but heartbreakingly, lost out to Drinagh Rangers on penalties in the decider following a draw after extra-time.
All Skibbereen’s teams were well positioned for a run at the WCSL U12, U13 and U14 league titles before another lockdown halted underage football proceedings throughout the region.
Skibb also deserves immense credit for cultivating a schoolgirls’ team that is enjoying great success in the Cork Women’s and Schoolgirls Soccer League over the past number of seasons.
‘Our women’s soccer programme has been another huge positive for our club this year,’ John Allan said.
‘In partnership with the 20x20 programme, and thanks to the hard work of our PRO Sasha Murphy and Deirdre Walsh, our schoolgirls’ team is going from strength to strength.
‘They have been brilliant at promoting that team’s efforts through our Facebook club page and social media. Everyone involved is enjoying being part of the setup and the girls are getting out and enjoying regular training sessions.
‘I have to mention our groundsman Ollie McCarthy and the way he maintains our marvellous Baltimore Road complex. The uptake on the use of our pitches keeps increasing so it’s not easy to keep them in such tip-top shape. Somehow, Ollie manages to do it and everyone in the club is grateful to him. We always say that Skibbereen has the best pitches in West Cork but that is down to Ollie.’
At junior level, Skibbereen missed out on promotion from last season’s ultra-competitive Championship division. Returning to the top tier, Premier Division, is a must, and John Allan knows the potential is there. Last season, Skibbereen knocked Premier champions Drinagh Rangers out of the Beamish Cup.
‘I have taken a step back following two years involved with managing Skibbereen AFC,’ Allan explained.
‘As for last season’s Championship, we were there or thereabouts once again but fell short (of promotion). It was a very good division last season and filled with quality teams. Spartak Mossgrove and Mizen AFC deserved to go up.
‘Mizen had been there or thereabouts for the past two years, like us, itching to get promoted. To be honest, the two teams that went up deserved it.
‘As for Skibbereen making the next step, we need to get 16 to 18 players turning out for the club each and every week. We have applied to enter a team in the new West Cork U19 League which I think will suit us as we seem to have a lot more youth players coming through than previous years.
‘A town the size of Skibbereen should be well able to field a U19 side. I think that (U19 team) will be vital for us to push on, at junior level, as a club over the next few seasons. We want to play in the Premier Division as we believe that is where Skibbereen belongs.’
Skibbereen AFC’s off-field efforts and maintenance of a playing complex to rival anything else in the country gives the Baltimore Road side plenty of hope for the future. At a time most sports clubs are struggling to attract new members, the club possess all the ingredients to deliver future success.
A floodlit training pitch has also been of huge benefit to the Baltimore Road club during the recent winter months. In time, the possibility of adding another set of floodlights to their main pitch could end up being the game-changer Skibbereen AFC has been longing for.