IN an upcoming Star Sport edition this month we’ll include our now annual profile of talented young sportspeople in West Cork. We call it The Next Generation. You’ll soon learn that West Cork sport is in safe hands – and we got a glimpse of the exciting future on Monday night of last week.
Cork City’s Munster Senior Cup quarter-final against Castleview wouldn’t usually turn many heads in the west of the county, but then the team-sheet dropped. There was a debut for 16-year-old Sam Bailey from Ballineen and a first start for Ardfield’s John O’Donovan (18). Dunmanway goalkeeper Aaron Mannix (18) was on the bench, as was Caheragh’s Liam Murray (17).
The West Cork-ification of Cork City FC is underway.
At one stage in City’s 4-1 win, all FOUR West Cork teenagers were playing together on Cork City’s senior team. That’s a remarkable achievement.
Former Lyre Rovers starlet Sam Bailey, who joined the City academy in 2019 at U13 level, has become the first player to go from City’s U13s all the way through to play with the first team. That’s history he has all to himself. Worth noting too that highly-regarded defender Sam was previously named City’s U13 Player of the Year, and added the U17 Player of the Year award in December last.
For John O’Donovan, this was his second appearance – and first start – for City, having made his debut in last season’s Munster Senior Cup. He is another West Cork teen on the rise and was named the 2022 FAI Schools International Player of the Year. John has been training with City’s first team in preseason and is moving closer to a league debut when the action gets underway later this month. Notable, also, that when Cork City FC squad portraits, ahead of the new SSE Airtricity Men's Premier Division campaign, dropped on Sportsfile this week, John was included.
When Caheragh teen Liam Murray was introduced in the 68th minute of City’s win against Castleview, it was his senior debut for the club, as he continues to trend upward too. The former Skibbereen AFC prodigy has previously lined out for the Republic of Ireland men’s U17 team.
There was a senior debut also for Dunmanway’s Aaron Mannix who is showing that Liverpool and Republic of Ireland shot-stopper Caoimhin Kelleher is not the only talented goalkeeper with a link to the West Cork town. Aaron was brought on inside the final ten minutes for his first senior appearance, and this shows his progression with the club he joined in early 2019; he first signed with Cork City’s U15s.
Last Saturday week another West Cork teen, 16-year-old Niamh Cotter from Bandon, also made an important breakthrough – she made her debut for Cork City Women’s FC senior team in Youghal. They played Wexford Youths in a pre-season game and in opposition to Niamh was her first cousin, Orlaith Deasy (18) from Timoleague, who has signed for Wexford Youths this season. Of the five West Cork teens who played with City’s men’s and women’s teams last weekend four were senior debuts.
Kids, bursting with big dreams and ambitions, in the West Cork Schoolboys and Schoolgirls League can now see players that lined out with Lyre Rovers, Ardfield, Dunmanway Town and Skibbereen locally, as well as Bandon AFC, progress up through the ranks – and that makes their goals a reality.
We are living in a golden era of West Cork sport. This glorious corner of Ireland is home to some of the biggest names in Irish sport – Paul O’Donovan, Fintan McCarthy, Phil Healy, Gavin Coombes, Enya Breen, Jack Crowley, Orla Cronin, Darragh McElhinney, Conor Hourihane, Melissa Duggan, Gary O’Donovan, Emily Hegarty, Aoife Casey, Fineen Wycherley, John Hodnett, Brian Hurley, Libby Coppinger, and the list goes on.
These have all shown what’s possible. Trailblazers for West Cork sport. Incredible local role models. The finest ambassadors West Cork could have. Darren Sweetnam showed that a West Cork rugby player can line out for Ireland at the top level. Phil Healy proved that a West Cork athlete can be the fastest in Ireland. Conor Hourihane was the first West Cork man to play in the Premier League. Paul O’Donovan and Gary O’Donovan won Ireland’s first-ever Olympic rowing medal and opened the door for the success that has followed. Paul and Fintan McCarthy took it even further: Olympic gold medals rest right here in West Cork. All these sportspeople have raised the level and profile of West Cork sport, made us all even prouder to call West Cork home, but more importantly they have all shown what is achievable.
They have opened doors for the next generation. Look at the current rugby boom in West Cork. Sweetnam was first, and the floodgates opened for others to follow: Gavin Coombes, Enya Breen, Liam Coombes, Fineen Wycherley, Laura Sheehan, Josh Wycherley, John Hodnett, Jack Crowley and Cian Hurley. The Munster women’s team that defended its interpro title last month had four locals involved – Enya Breen, Gillian Coombes, Laura Sheehan and Abbie Salter-Townshend. That’s the tip of the rugby iceberg in West Cork. Repeat for athletics, led by Phil and Joan Healy and Darragh McElhinney, all keeping West Cork front and centre of Irish sport.
The good news is that the next generation knows what’s possible. It doesn’t make the journey any easier, but there is a path now in place, to link West Cork to greater sporting success, if you’re willing to work hard. Niamh Cotter, John O’Donovan, Sam Bailey, Liam Murray and Aaron Mannix will all remember their senior City debuts, and hope to take the next step in their sporting adventures.
The next generation is making its move. Fasten your seatbelt.