WHAT happens on tour stays on tour, laughs John Buckley.
It was mid February 2006, the night before the West Cork League played Roscommon in a last 16 game of the Oscar Traynor Cup when the travelling young Rebels’ preparations for the biggest game of their season were interrupted – there was a nightclub next door to the Royal Hotel in Castle Street, Roscommon town where the team was staying.
Cue a night of high jinks, but Buckley, who was in the backroom team, is remaining tight-lipped!
Whether or not some of the team found a way past the WCL management team/bouncers-for-the-night and into the nightclub next door is pure speculation, but there was a door from the hotel that led directly to the nightclub ...
Still, the next day the West Cork League produced the goods when they defeated Roscommon on penalties in Ballinasloe to advance to the quarter-finals. After normal time and extra time failed to produce a winner, penalties were needed, and up stepped Darren Heffernan (Crossmahon), Gavin Daly (Drinagh), Michéal O’Regan (Dunmanway Town) and Darragh Connolly (Drinagh) to all score, while goalkeeper Darragh Farr (Togher Celtic) pulled off two saves.
And the West Cork League bandwagon rolled on to the last eight, with Kilkenny waiting.
‘It’s hard to believe that was ten years ago. We’ve some great memories of that campaign, especially beating the Munster Senior League in the semi-final, and off the pitch a lot of the lads will remember the trip to Roscommon,’ Buckley smiled.
‘We travelled up the day before by bus, stayed above the night before the game and we tried our best to keep them occupied in case they found a way into the nightclub. Keeping an eye on them for the night was one of the tougher jobs that year!’’ Buckley laughed.
That 2005/06 campaign was only the second season the West Cork League competed in the Oscar Traynor Cup, a national competition for district league teams, but once they qualified out of the group stages, momentum gathered.
Managed by Niall Barry, with Ger Healy his assistant manager, the West Cork League caused quite a stir as they shocked several high-profile teams en route to the final on Sunday, June 4th, 2006, that a star-studded Dublin AUL team bossed on their home patch on the Clonshaugh Road, and won 5-0. (Incidentally, Dublin AUL thrashed Cork AUL 7-0 in their quarter-final, with that Cork team having beaten the WCL 2-0 in the group stages).
‘I remember walking out onto the pitch before the final and looking around, half of West Cork had flown up for the game, it took a lot of us by surprise how many came up,’ recalled WCL captain Mike Doolan, of Drinagh Rangers.
‘As for the game we were second best most of the match, the Dublin AUL were that step above us, they had three players who had just signed pro contracts with teams in Scotland, but in true West Cork style we stuck to our game plan – why change it in a final when it got you there? – but we could not break them down.’
The final in Dublin was the WCL’s fourth away trip of the knockout stages, and while there was no fairytale ending to their adventure, that cup run is the stuff of legend as players from various West Cork clubs came together to firmly put West Cork soccer on the map.
‘We showed no fear that year, we trained weekly in Lyre with Niall Barry, we enjoyed playing our soccer, and everyone felt like professional players, playing different leagues away from home, staying overnight in hotels, and the West Cork League were top class for anything the team needed,’ recalled Doolan, who feels the chemistry, balance and talent of the squad was ideal.
‘We had two great goalkeepers in Darragh Farr and Rob Oldham, Kevin Hurley was a beast in defence alongside the ever-solid Alan Tanner, and there was JJ Hurley who seems to be getting better with age, Joe O’Mahony, Niall Hurley, Adrian O’Driscoll, Pat Joe O’Donovan and Micheal O’Regan.
‘We had the team joker in Darren Heffernan, the man mountain that was Gavin Daly and the engine in Denis Healy. We had the likes of Colin Cleary, Martin White, Shane O’Brien, Darragh Connolly and Aaron O’Regan who could score goals for fun, so all in all we had a unbelievable squad.’
In the quarter-final against Kilkenny in Scanlon Park, Kilkenny, in late March ’06, Darragh Connolly scored twice in a 2-1 victory, with the winning goal a real moment of magic, as he guided the ball into the top corner after spotting the keeper off his line.
Then came the Oscar Traynor Cup semi-final against the Munster Senior League at Turner’s Cross – a game that stands out for John Buckley.
‘We were up against it that day and we were definitely the underdogs – but we played them off the pitch and were full value for the win. That was a real highlight of the year,’ he said, as goals from Alan Tanner (Skibbereen) and Pat Joe O’Donovan (Drinagh) inspired a famous 2-0 win.
‘The lads were committed, they always turned up for training, they did everything and more that was asked of them and there was quality in every line of the pitch. We didn’t perform in the final against Dublin, maybe it was nerves because of the size of the occasion, but it was still a fantastic campaign; a real highlight for all the fellas who were part of it, ten years on and we still all talk about it.’
For the record, here is the West Cork League team that took on Dublin AUL in the 2005/06 Oscar Traynor Cup final: Darragh Farr (Togher Celtic), Niall Hurley (do), Alan Tanner (Skibbereen), Kevin Hurley (Togher Celtic), PJ O’Donovan (Drinagh), Darren Heffernan (Crossmahon), Gavin Daly (Drinagh), Denis Healy (Dunmanway Town), Micheál O’Regan (do), Mike Doolan (Drinagh), Darragh Connolly (do).
Subs: Ronan Crowley (Old Chapel Celtic), Colm Cleary (Bunratty), Martin White (Clonakilty AFC), Aaron O’Regan (Skibbereen), Aidan O’Driscoll (Drinagh).
Also on the panel were Richard Oldham (Leeside), JJ Hurley (Drinagh), Shane O’Brien (Skibbereen), Johnny Collins (Togher) and Joe O’Mahony (Bunratty).