The 19 rising West Cork sports stars to keep an eye on in 2019

January 22nd, 2019 1:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

Schull's Ronan Hurley signed his first professional contract with Cork City.

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KIERAN McCARTHY profiles 19 talented West Cork sportspeople - either 21 years old or younger

It’s boom time for West Cork sport and to highlight the phenomenal depth of talent across a wide range of sports KIERAN McCARTHY profiles 19 talented West Cork sportspeople - either 21 years old or younger - that are already making an impact at local, national and international levels. The future is very bright


Fineen Wycherley

The Bantry man (turned 21 in December) described by Ronan O’Gara as ‘just the new breed of animal that we have all been dying to see’ after Fineen’s performance in Munster’s PRO14 win against Leinster during Christmas wants to become a regular in the province’s match-day squads this year; that looks well within his grasp. The former Bantry Bay RFC starlet made his first start in the PRO14 and first appearance in the Champions Cup in recent months. Standing nearly six foot four tall and weighing 18 stone, nothing will stand in Fineen’s way. Munster head coach Johann Van Graan is another fan: ‘He has impressed me so much throughout the last year … he was excellent over the last few weeks.’


Laura Nicholson

The 2017 West Cork Youth Sports Star Award winner will swap her hometown of Bandon for Philadelphia in August when she moves to the States to begin an athletics scholarship at Temple University but she has a lot to tick off her to-do list before then. The 18-year-old Bandon AC middle distance runner will sit her Leaving Cert at Bandon Grammar and she is also focussed on the U20 European Track and Field Championships in Sweden in July, hoping to compete in the 3000m steeplechase. Laura was on the Ireland U20 women’s team at the European Cross-Country Championships in The Netherlands before Christmas while she also set a 1500m PB last year as well as win the U19 3000m national title. She feels the move to Philadelphia will bring the best out of her and is determined to sign off on a high note before boarding that flight in August.


Ronan Hurley

The Schull teenager (19) signed his first professional contract with Cork City in late 2018 and, handed the number 14 jersey, is a member of the first team squad for the upcoming season. The former Bunratty United player captained City’s U18s last season, made his senior debut against Waterford last April and then figured in City’s final three 2018 league games. Cork City boss John Caulfield commented: ‘We see huge potential in him for the future. He has pace, he is good on the ball and has a great attitude.’


Aoife Casey

The 19-year-old Skibbereen Rowing Club oarswoman is one half of the Irish lightweight women’s double – alongside club-mate Denise Walsh – that is targeting 2020 Olympic Games qualification this year. It’s a big mountain to climb but they’ll take confidence from a 13th place finish at the senior worlds in 2018. In the past she won a silver medal at the European juniors, Ireland’s first medal in this competition. Aoife, who studies medical and health sciences in UCC, is the daughter of the renowned Rowing Ireland coach Dominic Casey, who is also her coach.


Charlie Lyons

In recent weeks the Preston North End defender has been linked with a move to Cork City this month so we wait to see what will happen there. The Innishannon native (18) is a strong left-footed defender who can play either centre back or left back and he joined Preston North End from Inishvilla in January 2017. It’s worth noting too that the Valley Rovers player and former Bandon Grammar School student was a top talent on the football field as well.


Laura O’Mahony (pictured above)

The O’Donovan Rossa club star is recognised as one of the brightest ladies’ football prospects in the county. The Skibbereen Community School Leaving Cert student helped her club win the county junior C football title in 2018 and caught the eye on the West Cork team that contested the county senior final. A former All-Ireland winning minor who can play anywhere in the half-forward line or in either corner, Laura (18) is currently training with the Cork seniors, and in an interview with The Southern Star in November county selector James Masters said that Laura ‘is a super footballer on the development squad at the moment’. Her talent has been spotted. She has a great engine, gets up and down the field and can score too. 


Jack Desmond

This Bantry ABC boxer has been prolific at county and Munster levels in recent times, winning both for the last five years in a row as he progresses up the ranks. He’s never been defeated in those competitions and wants to keep it that way. Jack added a national title (Boy 4 39kg) in 2017 to cement his reputation as one of the top young boxers in Munster. Trained by his father Andrew and Andy Kerins, Jack will compete at Junior 2 level (48kg category) this year and is again targeting county and Munster titles, as well as the All-Ireland. He boxed at Junior 1 level last year and lost out in the national semi-final. A fifth year student at Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí, Jack is also hoping to be picked for an international event this year. 


Enya Breen

The Skibbereen teen is one of three West Cork women on the Ireland senior rugby panel for the upcoming Women’s Six Nations (along with Urhan’s Laura Sheehan and Timoleague’s Ailbhe Dowling), and while at 19 she might be seen as one for the future, she is very much one for the present as well. Learning her trade with Bantry Bay RFC, Breen made the step-up from Munster U18s to the province’s women’s team in 2018 and slotted straight in at full back where she caught the eye. Munster women’s head coach Laura Guest said: ‘Enya is one of the most exciting players that I have seen in a long time.’ She’s a second year physio student at UL.


Denzil Fernandes

Last year was the Drimoleague soccer star’s first full campaign at League of Ireland level and he featured 24 times for Cobh Rambers. This season, Denzil (20) wants to build on that and boost his goals and assists tally. A talented midfielder with flair and a grá for taking on defenders, creating chances and scoring goals, he came up through the ranks in the West Cork Schoolboys League with Drinagh Rangers, then to Bandon AFC, onto Corinthians before three seasons with Cork City U19s. Denzil wanted games so moved to Ramblers to play games and develop. He is. And there’s more to come.


Fionn Herlihy

The Dohenys’ forward has been in top form for Hamilton High School, Bandon in their march to the last eight of the Corn Uí Mhuirí (Munster colleges’ senior A football championship) by scoring 3-19 in their three group games. A former Cork U17, he’s set to be involved with the Cork U20s this year and has the ability to make an impact there. In last year’s Cork SFC, Fionn was one of Dohenys’ main players and he also lines out with the Doheny hurlers. He’s been on the radar for some time, winning a 2017 West Cork Sports Star Junior quarterly award for his role in Sam Maguires’ West Cork and county minor A football championship wins. 


Moira Barrett

The newly crowned West Cork Junior Sports Star of the Year captained Cork to All-Ireland minor A camogie glory in 2018 and then played three times – against Carlow, Derry and Galway – for the Cork intermediate team that went on to win the 2018 All-Ireland title. She also lines out for the Carbery senior camogie team and was part of the Ballinascarthy camogie team that won the county junior B championship and West Cork Cup in 2018; a great double for the club. Moira is a Leaving Cert student at Bandon Grammar school. As a result of Cork winning the intermediate All-Ireland last year, she was ineligible for regarding to intermediate again this year and is overage for minor so she will concentrate on her club and the Carbery senior team in the year ahead. 


Liam Coombes

In his second year in the Munster Academy, Liam – cousin of Gavin Coombes – is one they’re excited about in Munster. The winger/full back has blistering pace and he showed that when touching down on his PRO 14 debut for Munster against the Cheetahs in November. Still only 21, this product of Skibbereen Rugby Club also lines out for Garryowen and scored a try in their recent Munster Senior Cup final loss to Cork Con. Last season Liam, who played for Ireland in the 2017 U20 World Rugby Championship, won the award for Top Try Scorer in AIL Division 1A with 11 tries for the Light Blues.


Hannah Sexton

When you see that, as an U16, Hannah was named Female Road Bowling Player of the Year, as was the case in 2017, then you have to sit up and take notice of this top talent. The Timoleague teenager has dominated the underage scene from her U12 days, and in 2016 and 2017, after conquering Munster U16, she added the All-Ireland titles to her impressive collection. It was a massive shock when her bid for her third All-Ireland in a row came unstuck in Grenagh last year. Sacred Heart Secondary School student Hannah also tasted defeat in the All-Ireland U18 but she’s shown enough to suggest that she will be back amongst the national titles very soon. Her sister Katie competes at intermediate level and, no doubt, we’ll see Hannah progress through the ranks in the years ahead.


Darragh McElhinney (pictured)

Fresh from finishing 16th in the U20 men’s race at the European Cross-Country Championships in The Netherlands in December, the Glengarriff teenager (18) showed he belonged with the best. Current All-Ireland U20 cross-country champion and Irish U20 men’s 1500m champ, the Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí Leaving Cert student has consistently shown his talent in recent years – and he is keen to turn that into a medal on the big stage this year. Darragh is targeting a medal in the 5000m at the U20 European Track and Field Championships in Sweden in the summer. Now training under Dave McCarthy after his previous coach Steve Macklin took up a position in Doha, Darragh feels he’s ready to take the next step in 2019.


Clare O’Shea

The genes are there. The former All-Ireland winning Cork minor from Urhan is a cousin of former county senior Amanda Murphy, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Clare has emerged as one of the top young defenders in the county. The Beara teenager was an ever present in the West Cork ladies’ senior football team that contested the county final last year and her marking job on Cork senior Eimear Scally in the county semi-final against Eire Óg was noted, keeping Scally to 1-1 from play. West Cork manager Brian McCarthy said, ‘Clare has what it takes to go all the way to the top, she’s a sticky defender and is a forward’s nightmare, marks very tight that she’d get into your pocket, and has the right attitude and temperament.’


Jack Cahalane

We’ve heard it before when it comes to brothers in the GAA that the youngest is the one to watch, and when your older brothers are Cork senior hurler Damien and U20 Munster winning forward Conor and your sister Meabh has won All-Ireland camogie titles for Cork, they are big footprints to follow – but 16-year-old Jack will take it all in his stride. He was on the Cork minor hurling team last year and is involved with both the county minor hurlers and footballers this year. In 2018 Jack was a key player on the Castlehaven U16 team that won four titles including West Cork and county U16A crowns. In the West Cork final, he scored 1-6 and his performance was described as ‘on a different plain at centre forward for the winners … in a rampaging performance’. The Haven teenager is one to keep an eye on in the years ahead.


Fiona Keating

Here’s a dual jewel, that Cork breed that doesn’t just excel in one sport, but two. The Courcey Rovers rising star (17) was named Munster Provincial Young Player of the Year in 2017 for her football exploits and Fiona was on the West Cork senior ladies’ football team that contested the county final last year. This highly-rated forward also lined out for Courceys in the county senior camogie final last October – and was top scorer in their semi-final win against Milford – and while defeat was her lot in both, odds are she’ll regularly be in the mix for medals in the years ahead. The Kinsale Community School fifth-year student won an All-Ireland minor camogie medal last year and also competed with the Cork minor footballers. Like we said, she’s another Rebel dual jewel.


Mel Deasy

The Bantry Bay golfer (16) will be looking to build on his impressive 2018 that saw him win both the Munster U15 and U16 Opens, represent Ireland in a Four Nations tournament in The Netherlands, as well as be named the Munster Junior Golfer of the Year. This year, Mel’s focus will be on the World Amateur Golf Ranking events as he looks to work his way up the senior rankings. The West of Ireland Amateur Open in April will be an early target for the Presentation Brothers College transition year student whose father Tim is from Bantry, and that set up the link to Bantry Bay Golf Club. Mel was also named on the ten-strong Ireland U16 panel – along with Eoghan Cassidy of Kinsale – that will compete at various international events this year.


Gavin Coombes

These are great times for West Cork rugby and back rower Gavin Coombes is one of those leading the charge. A product of Skibbereen RFC, the 20-year-old number eight is in his third year with the Munster Academy (the first player from his club to join the academy back in 2016) and in October signed his first professional contract with the province, a two-year deal that well see him promoted to the senior squad from the start of the 2019/2020 season. The Betsboro native, six foot six inches tall, made his Munster senior debut in the PRO14 against the Cheetahs last September, is a former Ireland U19 and U20 international, is a regular with the Munster As and plays his club rugby with Young Munster.

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