BY KIERAN McCARTHY
A SURPRISE packet could cause a shock in this year’s Rowa/Rowex Carbery Junior A Football Championship, according to St Mary’s trainer Tony Merritt.
As reigning kingpins, following their second championship win last term, the Saints will be the team to beat this year, and while the usual pretenders to the crown are being mentioned as challengers, Merritt wouldn’t be surprised to see a bolter from the chasing pack go far this season.
‘Everybody will predict the same few main challengers, which you would expect to be Bandon, St Colum’s, Gabriels, and we will be added into the mix as well,’ Merritt said.
‘I have a sneaky suspicion that another dark horse will cause a few surprises this season. Kilmacabea are a team that have been there or thereabouts for the last few years, and St Oliver Plunkett’s have always been in the mix the last few years.
‘There will always be a surprise packet who will knock out a big team, get on a run, build momentum and go far.’
For Merritt and St Mary’s, they are bidding to achieve what no Carbery junior A football team has managed since Bandon in 2007 and ’08, and put back-to-back titles together.
‘Defending the junior A football title it always a big ask. This is a challenge that we are looking forward to and just what we need,’ Merritt said.
‘We previously won this back in 2009 for the first time ever, which was a massive achievement for the club, but it shows how competitive this competition is that it took us another five years before we won it again.
‘We had come close in the years in between but just never made the final step, until last year. It was extremely tough. We had our share of luck along the way, but the lads put in a tremendous effort and they got their rewards in the end.
‘The experience of last year’s campaign will stand to us this year.’
Merritt is right, the experience of last year should improve Mary’s, as they beat the likes of St Colum’s and Bandon en route to a final win against Gabriel Rangers, after a replay.
On the other hand, their secret is out now. Everyone knows about St Mary’s, who supplied Brian Corcoran, Jason Collins, Peter Daly, Chris Daly and Brian McCarthy on the Carbery senior football team that was recently knocked out of the Cork SFC against UCC.
‘Other teams will know a bit more about us now. We came in under the radar last year,’ Merritt admitted.
‘We lost in the first round, had to go through the back door, and there wasn’t any pressure on us because people may not have been paying as much attention to us as they will this year. We won’t be surprise packets this year. People know what we are about now.’
First up for the reigning champions is a round one game against Castlehaven, to be held in early May, and while the Haven haven’t won this particular competition since 1976, Merritt is understandably wary of this potential banana-skin.
‘We don’t need to be warned about how good they are,’ the Mary’s mentor said.
‘They are a club with a great tradition and I would imagine that all the guys who will be playing against us will have been training with the Castlehaven senior team all through the winter so you can imagine the level they have been training at, the intensity, etc.
‘A second team at Castlehaven is as good as a first team in most clubs in West Cork.’