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THE LAST WORD: The top 10 West Cork sporting moments from mighty and memorable 2021

December 25th, 2021 10:00 AM

By Kieran McCarthy

Skibbereen rowers Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy were crowned Olympic champions at the Tokyo Games.

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Countdown of the top 10 West Cork sporting moments from a magical 2021

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10. TALK OF THE TOWN – With two minutes to go in the 2021 Beamish Cup final, the showpiece game in the West Cork League calendar, Dunmanway Town’s Johnny Kelly did what he does best: win this particular competition. A Roy of the Rovers ending, captain fantastic Kelly scored a dramatic cup-winning goal to clinch a 2-1 win against Dunmanway Town at Turner’s Cross. Kelly has now won the Beamish cup four times – twice with Togher Celtic and now twice with Dunmanway Town.

Dunmanway Town's Johnny Kelly with WCL Secretary John Buckley (right) and WCL Chairman Tim O'Donovan (left) after the 2021 Beamish Cup final.

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9. NERVES OF STEEL – It’s up there as one of the clutch moments of 2021. Here’s the picture: Cork and reigning champions Kilkenny are level, 0-14 to 1-11, in injury-time of their All-Ireland senior camogie championship semi-final in Croke Park. It’s time for someone to become a hero. Up steps Cork captain Linda Collins. Disappointed to be left on the bench, she was introduced to devastating effect. In the second last minute of injury time, with the game in the balance, the Courcey Rovers woman fired over a sensational winning point to send the Rebels into the All-Ireland final.

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8. THE SURPRISE PACKETS – At the start of the season, not many would have picked Clonakilty to make an impact in the Cork Premier Senior Football Championship. But the sleeping giants of Cork club football sprung into life this year and embarked on a run that took them all the way to the county final. It was a journey dotted with important moments: beating Ballincollig in the group stage, coming from six points down to defeat Duhallow in the quarter-final and toppling Douglas in the semi-final. In the county final, Clon’s first since 2009, the West Cork men were brilliant, but the Barrs scored an injury-time winner to break Clonakilty hearts. Still, there were enough signs this past year to suggest Clon can position themselves amongst the contenders again in 2021.

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7. SILVER BULLET – Darragh McElhinney is only 21 years old and has already packed more into his career than some achieve in a lifetime, but even he admits his silver medal in the men's U23 event at the European Cross Country Championships earlier this month goes straight to the top of the charts. All the ingredients were there: it was one of the Glengarriff athlete’s best-ever performances, in a major championship held on home soil (Dublin) in front of a huge home crowd, and he won a magnificent individual silver medal and also led the Irish U23 men’s team to a glorious gold medal. It’s a day he’ll never forget.

Darragh McElhinney with his gold (U23 men's team event) and silver medals (U23 men's) from the European Cross-Country Championships.

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6. HAVEN HEROES – The only way is up for Castlehaven’s ladies’ footballers right now. They are on a roll. Having won Cork LGFA junior C and B titles in the previous two seasons, Haven won the county junior A title last November, and in the most dramatic fashion. An all-West Cork final with Dohenys went all the way to a sudden death 30-metre free shoot-out after the two teams couldn’t be separated. It was dramatic and tense. Then up stepped Aideen Santry to become the Haven hero when she nailed the winning free. And Castlehaven’s rise through the ranks continues.

The Castlehaven team celebrates after defeating Dohenys in the 2021 Cork ladies' junior B football final.

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5. DOUBLE DELIGHT – Before 2021 Randal Óg had never won a county football title, and now they have claimed two and also promotion to junior A for 2022. It was an incredible season for Randals. First, they won the 2021 county junior B football crown, beating Goleen in November. Then they defeated Dripsey to win the 2021 county junior B (divisional) football championship final. They almost clinched an incredible treble, but lost the county junior B hurling final to Belgooly. Still, what a year for the Ballinacarriga men. They played 28 games in 29 weeks, in both football and hurling. Time to rest now and celebrate their superb season.

Randal Óg celebrate their win over Dripsey in the Bon Secours Junior B (Div) FC final.

 

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4. COME ON YOU BOYS IN GREEN! – We all know that West Cork is now a hotbed for rugby talent and this past year we saw two local men make their senior Ireland debuts. First, it was Skibbereen’s Gavin Coombes who came off the bench in Ireland’s Summer Series win against Japan at the Aviva Stadium. The following week, Coombes started against the USA and Bantry’s Fineen Wycherley was introduced in the second half to make his Ireland senior debut. It meant that for the last 22 minutes, both Coombes and Wycherley were on the pitch together, highlighting again the growing strength of rugby in West Cork. There is more to come from these two.

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3. HISTORY MAKER – Phil Healy makes an impact on and off the track. Ireland’s fastest woman is an incredible ambassador for athletics and West Cork, and she had huge support from home again in 2021 as she competed in her first Olympic Games. Not only that, but the Ballineen Bullet became the first Irish woman ever to compete in three different track and field events at the same Olympics. More history for Healy. She was part of the 4x400m mixed relay team that qualified for the Olympic final and also raced in the 200m and 400m individual.

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2. MOHONAGH MARVEL – Emily Hegarty’s legend is assured. Her legacy will be even kinder to her achievements. At the Olympics in Tokyo, the Skibbereen rower, from Mohonagh in Aughadown, was part of the Irish women’s four crew that won Ireland’s first-ever women’s rowing medal at a Games. These four heroes (Emily, Fiona Murtagh, Eimear Lambe and Aifric Keogh) finished third and brought home brilliant bronze medals. It’s a break-the-glass-ceiling moment for Irish women’s rowing. This four has now raised the bar and shown Irish women rowers can win the big prizes. Locally, Emily is also the first Olympic heavyweight from Skibbereen Rowing Club; that’s important, too, as it highlights that it’s not only Skibb lightweight rowers who can fly the club’s flag on the world stage.

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1. BEST IN THE WORLD – Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy are two West Cork men who are the best in the world in their sport. The Skibbereen rowers are on a different planet to every other crew in the lightweight men’s double and they proved it again in a gold-laden 2021. The warm-up to the main course saw them win European and World Cup II gold, then they became the first Irish rowers ever to win gold at an Olympic Games, and to top it off, they won gold at the Henley Royal Regatta, too. It’s their Olympic gold from the Tokyo Games that stands head and shoulders above all else. On Thursday, July 29th, 2021, Paul and Fintan dominated the field, like they do, to win a medal that had always eluded Irish rowers. Until now, that is.

Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy show off Fintan's Olympic gold medal at Dublin Airport on the Monday after they landed home in Ireland from the Games.

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