21 UNDER 21: The future of West Cork sport is safe with these young and talented rising stars

January 25th, 2021 1:46 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Ardfield's John O'Donovan, Rosscarbery's Daragh Hayes and Bantry's Eve Murphy are all top local talents to keep an eye on.

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Sports editor KIERAN McCARTHY profiles 21 talented local sportspeople from West Cork – under the age of 21 – who we feel are worth keeping an eye on in the years ahead. These up-and-coming stars will make their mark

In association with Clóna Milk.


David Buckley

GAA | Newcestown | 19

Talk to anyone about David and they usually sing the same tune: he’s a competitor. By the time he turns 20 in October he’ll be after his third year of playing senior football and hurling with Newcestown. In truth, he’s a more natural footballer than a hurler and it’s to his credit that already he is viewed as one of their footballers’ most influential forwards. Rewind back to the 2019 Cork SFC quarter-final between Newcestown and Ilen Rovers, David, then 17 years old, kicked four points from play in the first half alone.

Newcestown know they have a talent on their hands, a player with hunger and desire to win the ball, and when he has possession he has the ability to find a way past his marker. Football-wise, he has found a home at wing forward, but has played in midfield on underage teams, while he started in the half-back line for Cork U20s last year and he also played full back for the Cork minor footballers.

He’s been a real leader of Newcestown underage teams and he has taken the step up to senior in his stride. Physically, he’ll become stronger in the seasons ahead too, but the raw materials – and, crucially, that competitive streak – are there. He doesn’t stand back from a challenge, either. In last year’s Cork Premier SFC meeting with Castlehaven David scored two points off Damien Cahalane and gave as good as he got.

Did you know? David scored a crucial goal in the 2019 county minor A football final win against Clyda Rovers, a game played in February 2020.


Oisin Boyle

Rowing | Skibbereen | 18

Oisin has no shortage of role models to look up to in Skibbereen Rowing Club, given the club’s incredible national and international success in recent times, but he’s determined to make his own name on the water. Involved in rowing since national school, he’s now a fifth-year student at Skibbereen Community School who wants to finish top of his class in the world of rowing. The target this year is to be selected to row for Ireland at the World Junior Rowing Championships in Bulgaria this summer while Oisin is also hoping that the 2021 national rowing championships get the green light this year as he has his sights set on the junior scull crown.

The quad is his favourite boat, given its speed, but he’ll do whatever it takes – and in whichever boat he can – to move to the next level. Under the watchful eye of legendary rowing coach Dominic Casey, and given the tradition in the club, Oisin – who trains 11 times a week – is in the right place to fulfil his potential.

Did you know? Oisin came in second place at the most recent junior selection/national team trial.


Robert Cronin

Motorsport | Ballylickey | 16

Hailing from a motorsport dynasty Robert – and his younger brother Colin – don’t have to look too far for inspiration, as his older brothers are four-time British Rally champion Keith and Fastnet Rally winner Daniel. Still, Robert is making his own name within the sport. You won’t be surprised to hear that he has a competitive streak, is fiercely committed and sets high standards, and the results are starting to come – one of his best results last season was a second place on the final round of the Senior X30 Championship after he started 16th on the grid.

Robert, who made his motorsport debut in karting in Mondello Park in mid 2018, will compete in this season’s Senior X30 Championship again. Last year he was seventh in the series but was still learning the tracks and attaining the important experience that comes with competition. Run by the Carrigadrohid-based DMS outfit, he is in good hands. His commitment to getting mileage under his belt is incredible and a top three championship position in 2021 is a realistic target.

Did you know? Robert also plays hurling and football with St Colum’s GAA Club.


Jack Crowley

Rugby | Innishannon | 21

Even though he just turned 21 this month, Crowley has to make the list as he is one of the hottest prospects in Irish rugby right now. Here in West Cork, with Bandon RFC and Bandon Grammar School, his talent always stood out, with his former Bandon RFC coach Bob Brady telling us before that, as a 13-year-old, Jack was ‘head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch’.

In last year’s U20 Six Nations campaign, Crowley blossomed on centre stage for Ireland and the gifted outhalf scored 36 points in three matches, including a memorable two-try haul in the win against Scotland. Earlier this month, after coming off the bench, the first-year Munster Academy star marked his Munster senior debut by kicking a conversion in their PRO14 loss away to Ulster. His talent is well known and Ronan O’Gara has revealed that he has tried to sign Jack for La Rochelle in France, but the Innishannon man turned it down. O’Gara said: ‘Am I disappointed? Bloody right I am. This boy is a talent.’

Did you know? When Bandon RFC won the All-Ireland U18 title in 2018, Jack scored 15 points, including a try, in the 20-7 final triumph against Skerries.


Orlaith Deasy

Soccer & GAA | Clonakilty | 16

Orlaith is a dual star with a difference: she lines out in attack for the Clonakilty ladies’ footballers and in defence for Cork City U17s. And judging on what we saw last year, she’s destined to make an impact in both codes. The Sacred Heart Secondary School Clonakilty transition year student helped Clon win the Cork LGFA intermediate championship last season as they advanced to the senior ranks for 2021.

Then she impressed in defence as Cork City U17s won the U17 Women’s National League title for the first time in their history. Orlaith is also part of the Irish national U17 development squad and she will look to earn her place in the Irish U17 team this year. All the way up in both GAA and soccer, she has excelled. In GAA, she played with the Cork U14s in 2018 and has won three county finals with Clon, including last year’s intermediate success. In soccer, she helped Bandon AFC U14s win the premier league title in 2018, has represented Cork in schoolgirls’ soccer, winning the Gaynor Plate in 2017, Gaynor Shield in 2018 and the Gaynor Cup in 2019. It’s onwards and upwards for this talented Clonakilty teen.

Did you know? Ice-cool Orlaith scored two goals for Clonakilty in their 2020 Cork county intermediate championship final win against Glanmire.


Gearoid Debarbouille

Kickboxing | Rosscarbery | 18

West Cork Kickboxing Club is a phenomenal local success story with so many athletes achieving national and international glory since it was founded in 1988. In fact, the club has won 14 world championship titles and 11 European titles at the various levels since then, and the conveyor belt is still very strong. Take Gearoid as an example.

The Mount St Michael Rosscarbery secondary school student has already amassed an impressive collection of medals and titles, including three national titles, gold at the 2018 World Cup in Italy, bronze medals at the 2017 European Junior Championships in Macedonia, the 2019 Hungarian World Cup in Budapest and the 2020 Karlovac Cup in Croatia, as well as a silver medal from the European Championships in Hungary. And he’s still only 18 years old.

His skillset is impressive, but equally so is Gearoid’s work ethic, his consistency and his focus. With head coach Ian Kingston, world champion Tony Stephenson and former world champion Lily de la Cour never too far away, Gearoid has the perfect role models to learn from and to help him continue on his journey.


Daragh Hayes

GAA | Rosscarbery | 20

They are quite excited about Daragh in Carbery Rangers – and it’s easy to see why.  All the way up he has stood out. He was a leader on both Rangers’ U16 team that won the Premier 2 U16 title in 2016 and the minor side that won Premier 2 honours two years later. In 2019, as a promising 18-year-old forward, he made his breakthrough onto the Ross senior team.

A Cork U20 footballer last season, Daragh has pace to burn, has speed off the mark, can take on and beat his marker and knows where the posts are. Those who know him best are impressed by his determination, attitude and ambition. As he has risen through the grades with Ross he’s been a leader on the teams he has played with and while he is still finding his feet at senior level, Daragh already looks comfortable and is enjoying the challenge. With the likes of John and Seamus Hayes in the Ross ranks, he has the ideal forwards to learn from and help him along his journey.  Darragh is a former student of Mount St Michael in Rosscarbery and is now a second-year Civil Engineering student at UCC, and he impressed on their Fresher’s team that won the league title.

Did you know? Daragh scored 1-8 for Mount St Michael in their 2018 Cork Post-Primary Schools’ Senior B football final win.


Fiona Keating

GAA | Ballinspittle | 19

It’s going to take something special for Fiona to top her 2020 sporting year – but that’s what she’s aiming to do. A rising star in Cork GAA, last season she starred for both her club, Courcey Rovers, as they won an historic first county senior camogie championship title and her divisional team, West Cork, who captured their first Cork senior football championship crown. Her importance to both is highlighted by her player-of-the-match showing for Courceys (scoring 3-2) in the camogie decider and her five-goal haul for West Cork in the county football semi-final. It’s a big ask but she’d love to repeat the double again in 2021.

At inter-county level Fiona was involved with both the Cork camogie and football senior set-ups, and she got championship minutes under her belt with Paudie Murray’s camogie team. She wants to build on that in the year ahead and get more game-time. Possibly she has a better chance of that with the Cork camogie team, given the competition for forward places in the football set-up right now. Already we know that Fiona is a player for the big occasion as her GAA CV is packed with player-of-the-match heroics in the big games – and we expect that to continue in both codes.

Did you know? Fiona was selected as the 2019 Celtic Ross West Cork Junior Sports Star after winning All-Ireland minor football and camogie titles with Cork in 2019.


Jack Lawton

GAA | Timoleague | 18

Currently, Jack is on his way back to full fitness after the ACL injury he suffered in action for Ibane Gaels last August, and the hope is that he will be back on the field this summer when the club season throws in. These days he is busy juggling his rehab with his Leaving Cert studies, so it’s a hectic time for the Timoleague teenager who impressed for the Cork minor footballers in their 2019 All-Ireland MFC triumph.

The Argideen Rangers clubman started for the Cork U20s in their two Munster football championship games last season and he’s battling hard to figure again this year, depending on his comeback from his cruciate injury. A fit Jack is an asset to any team – he’s a big unit, a strong fielder of the ball and well able to get around the pitch. He has found his home in midfield for Cork teams in recent seasons but is versatile and has played full back and centre back during his underage football days. Looking ahead to his comeback later this year Jack is targeting good seasons with Argideen and Ibane Gaels, as well as the Cork U20s. The hope is to return a better player than before, and he’s working hard to achieve it. From what we’ve seen of him so far, the Burrane footballer is on the right track.

Did you know? Jack started for Cork in their 2019 All-Ireland MFC final success against Galway at Croke Park.


Saoirse McCarthy

Camogie | Ballinspittle | 20

If 2018 was the year that the young Courcey Rovers forward grabbed headlines with her role in Cork’s All-Ireland minor and intermediate camogie title success, then 2020 was another important stepping stone in her camogie story. Not alone did she start for Cork in the All-Ireland senior championship quarter-final and semi-final, having also played in the earlier national league games against Waterford and Kilkenny, Saoirse also helped fire Courceys to the club’s first-ever county senior camogie championship title.

Now the challenge is for the 20-year-old forward to kick on again this year. She has the talent, the determination and the work ethic – and the speedy attacker also knows where the posts. In Courceys’ run to county glory last season Saoirse scored in every game apart from the county semi-final and she chipped in with 1-1 in the final against Inniscarra. Courceys missed her cutting edge when she was injured for their subsequent Munster semi-final defeat against Kilnamona.

Did you know? Saoirse scored a first-half goal for Cork against Waterford in their 2020 national league meeting – it was the only goal of the game.


Darragh McElhinney

Athletics | Glengarriff | 20

Given everything he has crammed into his athletics career to date, it’s astonishing to think that Darragh only left his teenage years behind him last November. He is already an incredibly decorated athlete who has broken many national records all the way up. When he was 16 years old Darragh broke John Treacy’s long-standing Irish outdoor youth 3000m record that had stood since 1974. Go back to 2016 when, only 15 years old, he travelled to Brazil ahead of the Rio Olympic Games as a training partner for Irish pentathlete Arthur Lanigan O’Keeffe.

His list of achievements marks him out as a special talent and we saw that last year when, still 19 years old, Darragh won the men’s senior national 5000m title, the first senior title of many. His disciplined and mature performance that day was remarkable. The UCD second-year student is never one to sit still for too long and he’s intent on taking his career to the next level. Having bossed the national scene up along he wants to make an impact on the international stage. This year Darragh’s primary target is the 5000m at the U23 European Championships in the summer. It’s the only competition he can attack with any real certainty at the moment.

Did you know? Darragh is the only athlete in Irish schools’ athletics history to win the junior 1500m, U16 mile, intermediate 1500m and senior 1500m titles.


Eimear Minihane

Rugby | Schull | 19

It’s no secret that rugby is riding on the crest of a wave in West Cork and as well as the familiar faces at senior level with Munster, the next batch is equally as exciting – and we include Eimear in this. Heading into 2020 she was coming off the back of a superb 2019 season that saw her named the Player of the Tournament as Munster won the IRFU U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship. By then the out-and-out ball-carrying number eight was already turning heads in the Munster set-up.

Last year, though, was a quiet one on the rugby field for the Skibbereen RFC player as not only was there very little rugby played, but she had to sit out a large chunk of the year through illness. The good news is that Eimear is back, fully recovered, and determined to remind everyone how good she is this year. Rugby-wise she’ll line out with Skibbereen RFC and UCC ladies’ teams while you can also expect to see her on the GAA pitch with Muintir Gabriels, and if the chance arises to get back into the Munster set-up she’ll grab it with both hands. Her rugby skill-set is impressive, and she’s strong, aggressive and physical. Fingers crossed it won’t to too long before we see Eimear back in the red of Munster.

Did you know? Eimear was one of eight Skibbereen RFC players on the Munster panel that won the 2019 IRFU U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship.


Eve Murphy

GAA | Bantry | 20

The naturally athletic Bantry footballer was one of the success stories of 2020. After impressing in midfield for the West Cork senior ladies’ football team that went on to win the county title, Eve (19 years old at the time) was called into the Cork senior football squad for the All-Ireland championship. She’s determined to keep her place in the county squad and kick on there in the year ahead, while helping Bantry Blues win the county intermediate championship is also on her to-do list for 2021.

Eve, who turned 20 last November, has a serious engine on her and covers huge ground during games.  She has been involved with Cork teams since U14 level and while the Bantry footballer’s potential was always there, her performances last season for Bantry (intermediate) and West Cork (senior) has shown that she can raise her game to the next level – and the Cork senior football management feel the same. Eve is also a second-year Intellectual Disability Nursing student in UL.

Did you know? Eve has a strong background in athletics and the 4x100m relay was her favourite event. 


Daire O’Brien

Camogie | Ballinacarriga | 18

Enniskeane camogie is riding on the crest of a wave right now, helped by the influx of young talent, including Daire, whose stock is trending upwards. In last year’s county intermediate semi-final against Fr O’Neills, when Enniskeane were trailing Daire was moved to full forward and she grabbed two goals to get them back on track – that’s no surprise to those who have seen her develop because she has always stood out.

At school level Daire has captained Sacred Heart Clonakilty to numerous county, Munster and All-Ireland titles, including their 2019 All-Ireland junior B success. At club level with Enniskeane she has won titles at U14, U16 and minor, and the 2020 county intermediate title, while she has also represented Cork at various underage levels and is a player the Cork intermediates will surely be looking closely at. A top-class ball striker, from open play and frees, Daire’s best position is probably centre back, though she has played in nearly every other position. She has a great engine, has the ability to turn defence into attack in seconds, and we’re told that Daire is often seen at her strongest when games are in the melting pot.

Did you know? Daire won a Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star Youth Award in 2019 after captaining Sacred Heart to an All-Ireland junior camogie title.


John O’Donovan

Soccer | Ardfield | 16

AT the 2018 Kennedy Cup John was picked by the West Cork Schoolboys’ League management team as their Player of the Tournament, and that was a hat-tip to the talented Ardfield teen who has moved on to bigger and better things since then. These days he is left back for Cork City U17s and is heading into his second season with the U17s, having signed for the club in 2019. He had a short spell with College Corinthians after leaving Ardfield before City spotted his potential and snapped him up.

In his Ardfield days – where one of his main coaching influences was Johnny Lawless – he was a midfield general with an eye for goal before City deployed him as a left back where he is also excelling. In 2020 the fifth-year Clonakilty Community College student, who turns 17 in early February, was called up to Dublin for Republic of Ireland U17 trials; he went to the first set of trials before the next trials were cancelled. Perhaps we might see John – also highly regarded in GAA circles – in the green of Ireland at some stage in the future.

Did you know? John is a big Chelsea fan.


Ryan O’Donovan

GAA | Courtmacsherry | 18

It’s 18 months since Ryan’s heroics in the 2019 All-Ireland minor football final helped Cork clinch All-Ireland glory and end a 19-year wait for this title. He came off the bench to score 1-2 in the extra-time win against Galway at Croke Park, and throughout that campaign he was a consistent performer for Bobbie O’Dwyer’s young side; Ryan racked up 2-18 in that campaign. When he played, he scored, and that’s a great habit for a forward to have.

Last season Ryan stepped up the adult grade and he didn’t look out of place – he top-scored with 0-6 (five from play) for Barryroe juniors in their Carbery JAFC Round 2 loss to Clonakilty. He also made his debut for the Carbery senior footballers last season when he was brought on as a half-time sub in their championship loss to UCC. On top of that Ryan also lined out for Barryroe’s intermediate hurling team. He’s moving in the right direction and will be keen to continue his development this year. It’s no surprise to learn Ryan is in with Keith Ricken’s Cork U20 football team this year and the target there is straightforward: earn his place on the starting team. He is also a first-year student at Cork IT where he is studying Recreation and Leisure Management.

Did you know? Ryan will also line out with Courtmacsherry in the West Cork League Championship when action resumes.


Clare O’Shea

GAA | Urhan | 20

She’ll turn 21 at the end of April, but already Clare has packed a load into her GAA career. She added to her growing reputation last year when she was a defensive rock on the West Cork team that won the county senior football championship; her marking job on Mourneabbey forward Ellie Jack was decisive in that game.

Clare can slot in anywhere in defence and West Cork have used her as a centre back because she offers an attacking threat, but it’s more likely that if she’s to nail down a spot with the Cork seniors it will be in the full-back line. The great thing about this Beara footballer is that she will play anywhere, and whoever she marks finds her very hard to shake off. This year will be her third season on the Cork senior panel and, while she has league and championship minutes under her belt, she’s pushing hard to become a regular. Coaches who have worked with her believe she has what it takes to earn a regular spot in the Cork defence.

Did you know? Better known as a defender Clare kicked 0-1 in West Cork’s county senior championship group win against Éire Óg last season.


Erika O’Shea

GAA | Macroom | 18

Erika was the breakout star of Cork ladies’ football in 2020, to the extent that in her first season at senior level she nailed down a starting spot in the half-back line and starred in the Rebels’ All-Ireland final loss to Dublin. After that game Cork boss Ephie Fitzgerald described the Macroom teenager’s performance as ‘immaculate for a girl who is only 18 years of age.’

A Leaving Cert student at St Mary's Secondary School in Macroom, Erika won an All-Ireland minor football medal in 2019 and previously lined out with the county U16s too. After being called up to the Cork senior squad last year, the attacking wing back made her debut in the All-Ireland championship group-stage win against Kerry in November and held her place for the rest of the campaign, turning heads all the way. Both The42 and Off The Ball picked Erika on their senior football teams of 2020, highlighting that she impressed so many last season and looked at home at the top level.

Did you know? Erika is also a very talented basketball player and is currently training with the Ambassador UCC Glanmire women’s Super League team. She was the club’s U18 player of the year in the 2019/20 season.


Ciara O’Sullivan

Camogie | Newcestown | 19

Her second cousin is Ireland’s fastest woman Phil Healy but Newcestown teen star Ciara is no stranger to the headlines either after her rise to the Cork senior camogie panel last year when she was still 18 years old. She made her senior debut in a national league game against Waterford in early 2020 and Ciara – the youngest player on the Cork panel for last year’s league campaign – wants to build on that breakthrough in the year ahead and force her way into the championship team. The experience of being on the panel last season, and seeing what’s needed at the highest level, will stand to her.

A double All-Ireland minor winner (2018 and 2019), and player of the match in the 2019 county intermediate final, the Newcestown forward already has an impressive body of camogie work behind her. With Newcestown heading into their second year in the senior championship it’s the ideal platform for Ciara to test herself and improve her game, up against the best defenders in the county. Ciara, who is studying in UCC, is dangerous from open play and accurate from placed balls.

Did you know? Ciara has a Black Tip belt in taekwondo.


Hannah Sexton

Road bowling | Timoleague | 18

Hannah’s road bowling record is, quite simply, phenomenal. This talented Timoleague teen has won her last eight Munster underage finals and has U18 (2), U16 (3), U14 (2) and U12 (1) titles to show, while she is waiting to play the 2020 Munster U18 final having booked her place in the decider before road bowling was suspended late last year. On top of that, last year, in her first campaign at intermediate level Hannah advanced to the last four and she’s also hoping to play that score when action resumes this year.

Given it was her first year at intermediate, and she was in action against more experienced and stronger bowlers, three-time All-Ireland champion Hannah looked right at home and she’ll be hard to stop at this grade. One of her targets is get to the senior grade in the next few years. Hannah had also qualified for the Ireland U18 girls’ team that was being sent to last year’s European Bowling Championships in Germany, but after they were postponed it was decided to open the trials process again. Now that she’s overage Hannah will try to qualify on the Irish senior women’s team.

On the GAA front, the Kilbrittain/Timoleague camogie player missed out on her last year as a Cork minor in 2020 after the championships were cancelled, but she’s set to line out for her club and the Carbery division in their 2021 championship campaigns.

Did you know? Hannah won an All-Ireland minor camogie title with Cork in 2019.


Nicola Tuthill

Athletics | Kilbrittain | 17

After throwing herself into the headlines in 2020, the teenager from Baurleigh, in between Kilbrittain and Bandon, wants to stay in the spotlight this year – and the odds favour her. Last year the rising Bandon AC star won her first senior national title in style when she smashed her own personal best and the Irish U18 women’s record to take gold in the women’s hammer at the national senior championships. Nicola’s monstrous effort of 60.04m saw her become only the sixth Irish woman to ever throw over 60 metres – and she achieved that as a 16-year-old!

She’s training hard for the season ahead and hopes to defend her hammer titles at the senior and U20 national championships while Nicola is also targeting the European U20 Championships in Estonia in July, while attaining the qualifying standard for the World U20 Championships to be held in Kenya in August is another goal that her coaches have set. Given the qualifying standards for the European U20s (57.50m) and World U20s is (58.00m) is well inside her PB set last year, Nicola is in with a good chance, hopefully, of taking the next step in her promising athletics career.

Did you know? The Coláiste na Toirbhrite student also won the women’s hammer at the 2020 national junior championships.

The Southern Star's 21 rising West Cork sport stars under 21 is brought to you by Clóna Dairy Products. Refuel, Rehydrate & Repair with Clóna.

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