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THE NEXT GENERATION: Check out the talented young sports stars who are safeguarding West Cork's future

February 7th, 2022 1:40 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

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West Cork sport has never been stronger. We have Olympic champions, world-class athletes, senior Ireland internationals and a lot more. The good news is, as Kieran McCarthy will outline, the next generation of local athletes will keep West Cork on the sporting map for many years to come

In association with Clóna Milk.

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FINN O’REILLY

ROWING | SKIBBEREEN | 19

The latest from the world-famous Skibbereen Rowing Club production line, Finn is already in good company. At the 2021 Irish Rowing Championships, the 19-year-old, who lives in Kilcoe outside Skibbereen, sat in the Skibb quad that also included freshly-crowned Olympic champion Fintan McCarthy, Fintan’s twin brother Jake McCarthy and 2016 Olympic silver medallist Gary O’Donovan. Finn doesn’t have to look far for heroes and role models; he is rowing with them and has a front-row seat to see what’s needed to become the best in the world.

Finn won three national titles at junior men’s 19 level at the 2021 championships, which came on the back of his superb silver medal at last summer’s World Rowing U23 Championships in the Czech Republic; that was also his first world championship. He was part of the Irish coxed men’s four that finished second in their A final.

Finn, who will benefit hugely from training with Rowing Ireland’s senior crews at the National Rowing Centre in Farran, wants to be selected for the 2022 World Rowing U23 Championship in Varese, Italy this summer, and, hopefully, in an Olympic-class event. He is targeting a medal, like he achieved last summer. The first-year MTU engineering student also has ambitions of rowing his way into senior Irish crews. Watch this space.

DID YOU KNOW? While Skibbereen Rowing Club is known for its world-class men’s lightweight rowers, Finn, standing six foot three inches tall, will pursue the heavyweight route.

NICOLA TUTHILL

ATHLETICS | KILBRITTAIN | 18

She’s only 18 years old but, already, Nicola is amassing an impressive medal collection. Rewind back to 2020 when she was crowned Irish women’s senior champion in the women’s hammer. Already, she had won the biggest national title available, but last year saw her step it up again. While the teen from Baurleigh, in between Kilbrittain and Bandon, had to settle for silver in her Irish women’s hammer senior title defence at the nationals, she smashed her PB with a career-best throw of 61.55m to break her previous PB of 61.46m that was set at the previous month’s AAI Games. It also highlights Nicola’s progression, and she’s determined to keep developing in 2022.

The Bandon AC rising star has plenty of goals this season, but will balance sport with studies as the Coláiste na Toirbhrite student sits her Leaving Cert exams; time management is key here. The national championships, both U20 and senior, are in her sights. She wants to retain her national junior title and also break the national junior (U20) record which is 63.01m. An early target is the European Throwing Cup which is in Portugal in March while Nicola is also aiming to achieve the women’s hammer qualifying standard for the World Athletics U20 Championships that will be held in Cali, Columbia at the start of August.

DID YOU KNOW? Nicola was crowned the overall 2020 Celtic Ross Hotel West Cork Junior Sports Star winner to further highlight her incredible talent.

MAEVE O’NEILL

ATHLETICS | BALLINACARRIGA | 17

Given all she accomplished in 2021 – and there was a lot – Maeve’s plan is to step it up again this year.  Last year was a breakthrough season for the Ballinacarriga teen who runs for Doheny AC, as she racked up the medals, records and PBs.

Maeve, daughter of former Irish international athlete Anna, competed at the European U20 Championships in Estonia last summer, in both her favourite 800 metres and with the Ireland women’s 4x400m relay team – it also included Lauren McCourt (Bandon AC) – that finished fifth in the final and set a new national U20 record of 3.37.39. Great memories, as is her 800m PB run (2:06.40) at an U18 European meet in Paris last summer, and her 800m gold medal at the 2021 national junior championships.

Buoyed by the improvement she showed last year and the success that followed, Maeve’s plans for 2022 are to improve her 400m and 800m PBs and, at a national level, target the senior schools’ 800m title. Looking beyond the national scene, the MICC Dunmanway fifth-year student is hoping to achieve the qualifying standard for the 800m and help to qualify the U20 4x400 rerlay team for the World Athletics U20 Championships in Columbia in August.

DID YOU KNOW? In 2021 Maeve broke Sonia O’Sullivan’s 34-year-old 800m record at the South Munster Schools Track and Field Championships, taking almost seven seconds off the record that had stood since 1987.

DAN PEET

FOOTBALL | CLONAKILTY | 19

He’s not turning 20 years old until June but Dan has already packed a lot into his football adventure. He was cornerback on the Cork minor football team that won the 2019 All-Ireland MFC crown and he was also cornerback on the Clonakilty senior football team that went all the way to the 2021 Cork Premier SFC final. The good news is that he looks right at home on the big stages.

Dan is a manager’s dream. He is a really tight marker and rarely gives away the ball when in possession. He’s tough, too, has that never-say-die attitude and responds well to direction. That’s why he doesn’t look out of place in a Clon full-back line that also includes current Cork senior Maurice Shanley and former inter-county footballer Thomas Clancy – they are at the level that Dan wants to reach.

It’s already shaping up as a busy year for the Clon man. He is in again with the Cork U20 footballers and wants to nail down a regular starting spot on the team for the championship. He’s in colleges’ action these days with UCC freshers and they have an All-Ireland quarter-final this week. Then with Clonakilty Dan wants to build on last year’s breakthrough season as they went all the way to the final – and they are determined to go one step further this year.

DID YOU KNOW? Better known as a defender, Dan scored 1-2 against Inniscarra in the final when Clonakilty were crowned 2018 Rebel Óg Minor A football champions.

CIARA O’SULLIVAN

CAMOGIE | NEWCESTOWN | 20

Last summer, after Ciara’s impressive performances for Cork in the Munster senior camogie championship, then manager Paudie Murray spoke of his delight at the Newcestown teen’s development and how she had played ‘very, very well’ in the provincial series. That was the latest indication that the young forward is on the right track.

Having only made her senior inter-county debut in Covid-hit 2020, Ciara played ten times for Cork last season, across all competitions, including starts in the business end of the All-Ireland series. The UCC student wants to build on that platform this year and nail down a starting spot in Cork’s championship team. The experience she gained last year will help her. Ciara is excited for the inter-county season ahead, given the potential of a young Cork team that’s determined to get back to the top of the charts.

Closer to home, the two-time All-Ireland winning Cork minor wants Newcestown to lay down a marker as a senior club in the championship. In the past two seasons they have been knocked out by the team that went on to be crowned champions – and Ciara will be central to Newcestown’s plans to kick on in 2022.

DID YOU KNOW? Ciara is a second cousin to Ireland’s fastest woman and Olympian, Ballineen Bullet Phil Healy.

ROBBIE MINIHANE

FOOTBALL | CASTLEHAVEN | 19

The production line in Castlehaven is still strong – and Robbie is one of the latest talents off the conveyor belt who is worth watching. Already, he is featuring for the Haven’s senior team and he was used regularly off the bench in their Cork Premier SFC campaign last season; a sign that the Haven management feel he is ready for the cut and thrust of club football at the highest level. (Worth noting, too, his brother Alex is also on Haven’s senior team panel)

Robbie ticks a lot of boxes: he is strong and athletic, he can play in any position, is a great fielder of the ball and can score too, and also from placed balls. He also has the right attitude. Add all those ingredients together and you have a footballer worth keeping an eye on. The Cork U20s think so too and he is on the county panel this season.

He didn’t play minor for Cork, but was also playing rugby and soccer at the same time. Since he focussed on football, he has taken off and become a key player for Castlehaven’s U21s as well as the Skibbereen Community School team that was in Corn Uí Mhuirí semi-final action last weekend. He was also a central figure on the Castlehaven team that won the delayed Rebel Óg 2020 Premier 2 minor county final last year.

DID YOU KNOW? Robbie’s dad, Martin Minihane, was on the Castlehaven U21 county-winning football teams in 1981 and ‘83.

LAUREN McCOURT

ATHLETICS | INNISHANNON | 19

In the summer of 2021 Lauren got to experience her first major international event – the European U20 Championships in Estonia – and the Bandon AC sprinter loved every minute of it. She competed individually in the 200m and with the Irish 4x400m relay team, and came home motivated to train harder, work harder, push harder and get back on the big stage again.

Last year was memorable for the Innishannon teen who set a new 200m PB (24.16) and also won gold in the women’s 200m at the junior national championships. On top of that, the current Bandon Grammar Leaving Cert student shattered an eight-year-old 200m Phil Healy record at the 2021 South Munster Schools Track and Field Championships.

Lauren is definitely on the front foot right now, and she’s keen to keep pushing forward in the year ahead. Much of her focus in 2022 will be on the 400 metres and she wants to set a new PB (56.59 is her outdoor 400m PB, 57.78 her indoor PB), while also bringing down her 200m PB. Lauren’s sights are set on the U23 400m title at the national championships, both indoor and outdoor, and she’s keen to make the most out of her first year of focussed 400m training. Achieving the European U23 qualifying standards is another goal on her to-do list.

DID YOU KNOW? Lauren, then 18, finished sixth in the women’s 200m final won by her Bandon AC club-mate Phil Healy at the 2021 outdoor Irish Championships.

LIAM MURRAY

SOCCER | CAHERAGH | 16

Caheragh might be better known for its Gaelic football exploits – but local teen Liam is putting soccer on the map in his home parish.

Last October he featured for the Republic of Ireland men’s U17 team in their UEFA Elite U17 European qualifying stage games as the boys in green topped the group to book a place in the qualifiers in March. A tough group awaits, alongside Portugal, Bulgaria and Finland, and a place in the last 16 of the European U17 Championships is up for grabs. Liam hopes to play his part in that adventure.

Closer to hope, the former Skibbereen AFC prodigy will line out with Cork City U17s again this season. The talented midfielder scored eight goals for City U17s in 2021, including in City’s National League of Ireland U17 Mark Farren Cup final victory. Liam, who turns 17 later this month, is eager to improve his goal tally this season, as well as feature for City U19s and, possibly, earn a few training sessions with City’s first team.

DID YOU KNOW? When Liam lined out for the FAI Emerging Talent Programme’s 2005 National Academy that took on The Netherlands National Academy in 2019, he was up against Dutch wonderkid Julian Rijkhoff who is now with Borussia Dortmund and has been likened to Robert Lewandowski.

FIN WILSON

MOTOCROSS | BANDON | 15

Such is Fin’s rising reputation that expectations are even greater than the heights he soars above the many jumps in motocross. Covid-19 restrictions were one of the issues that ended what was meant to be a packed programme of events through 2020 and last year for the Bandon teenager who turns 16 years old in May.

Indeed, his 2021 racing season was curtailed even greater when he suffered a broken thumb after he fell off and another rider, who couldn’t avoid him, went over his hand. That put him out of action until the very end of season where he competed in a few events in Vernon Mount, off the Kinsale roundabout in Cork.

An Irish 65cc Cadet champion in 2015 and 2017, small wheel 85cc Irish champion in 2018 and 2019, Fin will ride a TM125 in both the Adult and Youth Irish Motocross Championships and also in the six-round Bridgestone British Masters Motocross Championship during this season. His dad, Peter, continues as his mechanic and transport manager and coaching will be given by Dubliner Stuart Edmonds, who races mainly in the UK. Bandon Grammar School student Fin is eagerly awaiting the new season, in terms of the Irish Championships that gets underway close to home at Vernon Mount at the end of next month.

DID YOU KNOW? Fin’s first race was in 2012, before his sixth birthday, and he won!

FIONA KEATING

CAMOGIE | BALLINSPITTLE | 20

Ahead of the 2021 season, rising Cork dual star Fiona made a big decision: she decided to focus solely on camogie at senior inter-county level. It was a tough call to make, given her success as a dual Cork minor, but it was the right one. The decision to focus fully on camogie has seen her blossom.

The Courcey Rovers forward won her spot in the Cork attack last season, played ten times for the seniors across the league and championship, including starts in the All-Ireland semi-final and final, and scored 2-13 in total. 2021 was the season where UCC student Fiona showed what she can do – and the 2019 Celtic Ross Hotel West Cork Junior Sports Star wants to kick on this year.

Again, camogie is her focus at inter-county level, and with new manager Matthew Twomey in charge, Fiona is eager to impress and also fire the Rebels to league and championship glory. In UCC colours, she will play both camogie and football and has her sights set on the Ashbourne Cup and O’Connor Cup, and then Courceys want to get their hands back on the Cork senior camogie championship crown, too. Exciting times for an exciting talent.

DID YOU KNOW? A dual star at club level, Fiona scored FIVE goals in West Cork’s 2020 county senior football championship semi-final win against Aghada and then scored a HAT-TRICK for Courceys in the 2020 county camogie final!

STEPHEN O’DONOVAN

BASKETBALL | BANTRY | 15

Basketball in Bantry is bouncing right now, with great work ongoing at club and school levels – and Stephen (15) is the prime example. The talented Bantry teen is currently on the 22-player Ireland U16 basketball squad, having passed every test so far, from regional academies to provincial academies to the Irish panel.

Stephen’s aim is to make the final selection of 12 who will represent Ireland in the FIBA U16 European Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria next August. Powerful, tall and athletic, he is dominant on the court and stands out at club level. His versatility is another plus, too, as he is able to slot into several positions. His attitude is key as well and he leads by example, so it’s no surprise he was named captain of Coláiste Phobail Bheanntraí’s U16 school’s team this year.

Off the court, Stephen is also making a name for himself in rugby circles and has been involved with the U16 Munster Rugby Development squad and has played, too, several Junior Cup games with the Munster Club Select team with the the hope of being involved in the Interpros next year.

DID YOU KNOW? As well as Stephen’s success, Bantry Basketball Club’s Clodagh Downey (U15), Belle O’Donoghue (U14), James Keane (U15), Leah Cotter (U15), Saerlath Bestor (U15), Charlie Curran (U15), Abbie O’Sullivan (U14) and Jack Phillips (U15) have all been involved in various regional and Munster academies this season.

 

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LAURA O’MAHONY

FOOTBALL | SKIBBEREEN | 21

If 2021 was her comeback year, then 2022 is the season that Laura reminds us all just how good she is. The O’Donovan Rossa star was rocked by a serious knee injury in 2020 that kept her out of football for almost 12 months, but she got back on the pitch with both her club and Cork seniors (the championship game against Tipperary in July 2021 was her first match back) last season.

The hope now is that Laura will push on even more this season – and the signs are positive. Fitness wise, she’s getting back to where she was before her knee injury and her knee feels good.

Laura ticks a lot of football boxes: she’s athletic, has a great engine, is a very good tackler, can slot in at wing back (as former Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald showed) or wing forward (as she did with West Cork) and excels in linking play and creating chances. A fully-fit and firing Laura is a huge asset to new Cork boss Shane Ronayne.

It’s shaping up as a busy season, too. Club-wise, the Rossas, as Cork junior B champions, are up in junior A this year, while at county level she wants to nail down a place in the starting team and help Cork get back to the top of the football charts. And with UCC, she also has the O’Connor Cup.

DID YOU KNOW? Gymnastics and badminton were Laura’s first sporting loves before she turned her attention to football when she was nine years old!

 

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JOHN O’DONOVAN

SOCCER | ARDFIELD | 17

This year has already brought good news for the rising West Cork soccer star as he has been selected, after impressing at trials, for the Ireland schools’ U18 team that has a tournament in March against England, Scotland and Wales. It’s an ideal opportunity for John to put himself in the shop window.

Since he left Ardfield FC, where he learned his trade, his stock has continued to rise, highlighted by his role in Cork City’s National League of Ireland U17 Mark Farren Cup success last season.

The talented defender – making a name for himself at left back – will step it up again in 2022 as he is now involved with Cork City’s U19 team. Even though he is a year younger than his team-mates, John’s ambition is to nail down a starting spot and to continue his development by testing himself against older players. All the signs indicate he’s ready to take that next step.

This will be the Clonakilty Community College student’s third year involved with Cork City, having signed for the U17s in 2019, and he will sit his Leaving Certificate exams too, so it’s a big year on and off the pitch for the former West Cork Kennedy Cup star.

DID YOU KNOW? Dual star John scored 0-2 from full forward when Clonakilty won the 2021 Rebel Óg West U17 Division 1 final against Castlehaven.

 

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JANE BUCKLEY

ATHLETICS | NEWCESTOWN | 18

Newcestown teen Jane was one of the breakthrough young sports stars in West Cork last year. Running for Leevale AC, she enjoyed a superb season that saw her reel off a string of impressive performances that raised her profile considerably.

At the Autumn Open Cross Country in October 2021, Jane won gold. She added another gold to her growing collection when she won the U20 women’s 4000m race at the Irish Life Health National Cross-Country Championships. And she also represented Ireland, for the first time, at the 2021 European Cross-Country Championships held in Dublin; there, she finished a creditable 30th in a top-class U20 women’s field.

Already this year, Jane, again in Ireland colours, finished sixth in the women’s U20 race at the 2022 Celtic International Cross Country meet in Belfast, and was just 11 seconds off the bronze medal.

Her plan for 2022 is to continue on the right track that she is on, and she hopes to compete in 1500m, 3000m and 5000m in the outdoor season and improve her PBs there. This Autumn already looks very exciting as Jane will start a scholarship at Providence College in Rhode Island in America, and she intends to compete in the NCAA Division 1; that’s the highest level of intercollegiate athletics in the States. It’s the ideal environment to learn and develop.

DID YOU KNOW? Before focussing on athletics Jane lined out with Newcestown camogie and played a central role in their team that won the 2019 U16A county plate final.

 

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CIAN HURLEY

RUGBY | CLONAKILTY | 21

Standing at six foot five inches in height, you can’t miss the Clonakilty giant off the pitch, and given his size and strength on the rugby pitch you can’t miss him there either. Cian is currently in his second year with the Greencore Munster Rugby Academy and the noise around him is very positive; he’s a talent worth keeping an eye out for.

In March 2021 he made his debut for Munster, starting in the second row and playing the full 80 minutes in a 31-17 home win against Benetton, and he looked quite comfortable at this level. He has the power, the size and the skillset, and like all the West Cork men in the Munster set-up, there is a hardiness and toughness to him. And he’s improving.

Cian, who now plays his club rugby with Garryowen, came through the ranks at Clonakilty RFC and that’s where he spent his formative years, before excelling for Christian Brothers College Cork where he won a Munster Schools Senior Cup in 2019. He has also been involved with the Irish U18 Schools’ team and the Ireland U20s.

DID YOU KNOW? Cian was born in South Africa and spent his early years in Johannesburg where his parents, Eoin and Catherine, moved to work before they returned to West Cork when he was 13 years old.

 

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HANNAH SEXTON

ROAD BOWLING | TIMOLEAGUE | 19

The Timoleague teenager is both the present and the future of women’s road bowling, as well as having the most trophy-laden underage career in the history of the sport. Hannah is a phenom on the road, as her title haul confirms: she won back-to-back U18 and U16 All-Irelands to round off her sensational underage days. She also, incredibly, won all nine Munster underage finals she played in (U18 x 3, U16 x 3, U14 x 2 and U12).

Hannah, despite playing last season with a cruciate tear, won the delayed 2020 Munster intermediate title and will now mix it with the big guns in the senior ranks in 2022. It’s a huge step up and it will take her time to find her feet, but her career to date suggests she’ll hit the ground running.

This year Hannah is also on the Ból Chumann senior women’s team that will compete at the European Championships in May, and this is another great platform to show what she is capable of.

Not forgetting, too, that Kilbrittain/Timoleague club star Hannah is also a highly-rated Cork camogie player who enjoyed All-Ireland minor success with the Rebels before and lined out with the county intermediate team last year before she suffered her knee injury. It’s shaping up to be a busy year on the road and on the pitch.

DID YOU KNOW? Two of Hannah’s younger sisters, Ellen and Margaret, have been selected on the Ból Chumann U18 girls’ team for the European Championships in May.

 

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PEADAR O’ROURKE

FOOTBALL | ROSSCARBERY | 18

Peadar burst on to the senior football scene last season when, still U18, he played every minute of Carbery Rangers’ three Premier SFC group games – and he looked right at home, slotting into the half-back line and the middle third.

So far, the reports are encouraging. His reading and understanding of the game and his vision sets him apart from most 18 year olds. Peadar can also play almost anywhere, from an inside forward to a playmaker or from wing forward to wing back, and maybe it’s the latter position that he will make his own as he has all the attributes of a modern wing back – he impressed there for Rangers’ U21s when they won the 2021 Carbery U21A FC title. Add in his low centre of gravity, his speed, a great side step and the ability to create space for himself, and you’ll see why Rangers are excited about his potential.

Peadar is currently in with the Cork U20 footballers and is hoping to make the championship panel and he is also on the Mount Saint Michael, Rosscarbery football team that is through to the Munster colleges’ senior B final. His focus, too, is on rubber-stamping his place as a Rangers’ regular this year as well. And all this before he turns 19 in August.

DID YOU KNOW? Peadar is the younger brother of Cork senior footballer John O’Rourke.

 

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NIAMH COTTER

SOCCER | BANDON | 15

The multi-talented Bandon teen has been one to watch in football and soccer these last few years, and her impressive trophy haul highlights this. With Bandon GAA, Niamh has won numerous West Cork U12A, U14, U16 and U18 titles, as well as winning the 2021 Munster U16 championship with Cork. Worth noting here Niamh’s football penalty record: she is clinical and scored all seven last season. That can be traced back to her soccer skills as the Coláiste na Toirbhirte, Bandon student is also making a name for herself in soccer circles.

These days she plays with Cork City U17s, as does her first cousin Orlaith Deasy from Clonakilty. Niamh, who started out with Bandon AFC, has won Cork league titles, played in the Gaynor Cup four times and was selected on the Munster Schoolgirls’ U15 team. She is on the radar at international level, too, and was a standby player for the Republic of Ireland U16s for a recent trip to Portugal. Winning a first Irish cap is a goal and this year Niamh, who turns 16 in the summer, will focus her efforts on soccer. She is determined to establish herself in the Cork City set-up and hopefully that will lead to international recognition. The ultimate goal is to be part of the Irish U17 squad for the 2022/23 season.

DID YOU KNOW? When Niamh was nine years old, she played as a striker with Bandon AFC’s U12s and alongside her cousin Orlaith Deasy they scored nearly 40 goals as Bandon finished runners-up in the league!

 

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DARRAGH DEMPSEY

ROAD BOWLING | SKIBBEREEN | 17

Carbery bowling’s best prospect in years – that’s how Darragh has been described, and with good reason.

The Skibb teen is a serious young bowler who has snaffled up titles at all levels on his way up through the grades. He has already racked up two U12 All-Irelands (2015 and 2016) and an U16 All-Ireland (2019). Then, just 15 years old and in the time before Covid, Darragh was selected on Ból Chumann men’s U18 team for the 2020 European Championships in Germany, which were then cancelled when the pandemic struck. The good news is that he is on the Ból Chumann U18 team for this year’s Europeans, again in Germany, and this is the ideal stage for Darragh to dazzle. If it all goes according to plan in May, he will try to bring home a medal or two, in the individual and team events.

The Skibbereen Community School Leaving Cert student is the current Carbery U18 champion, having held this title for the past two years. While he now competes in the adult grade as well – and that’s the ideal challenge to continue his development – this is Darragh’s last year underage and he wants to go out in style by, hopefully, winning another All-Ireland.

DID YOU KNOW? Darragh isn’t the only young Carbery bowler worth keeping an eye on. Colm Crowley (Bauravilla) and Shane Crowley (Schull) are two more exceptional talents. Watch this space.

 

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LAUREN McCARTHY-STEELE

ROWING | ROSSCARBERY | 17

A KEY part of Skibbereen Rowing Club’s junior women’s squad, Lauren doesn’t have to look far for inspiration. Just last year Emily Hegarty won a brilliant bronze at the Tokyo Olympic Games, showing all the young women at the club the route to the very top. Lauren, who turns 18 in March, also medalled at international level in 2021 – she was part of the Rowing Ireland women’s quad crew that won a silver medal at the 2021 Coupe de la Jeunesse in Linz, Austria last summer. A huge moment for Lauren.

The Mount Saint Michael, Rosscarbery Leaving Cert student is making waves in river rowing now, but began her story in coastal rowing in 2014; from there up to 2020 she won five All-Ireland medals. In January 2020 she joined Skibbereen Rowing Club and, before Covid took over, she finished third in her category (women’s junior 16) at the national indoor championships.

Early last year she trialled for Ireland and was selected on the women’s quad for the Coupe. Following that, Lauren added to her collection when she won a national title in Skibb’s junior 19 women’s quad – alongside Alyssa Mannix, Kelly Oforji and Moya Knowles – at the Irish Rowing Championships. This is Lauren’s final year as a junior and she’s training hard with the target of being selected to represent Ireland at the 2022 World Rowing Junior Championships in late July.

DID YOU KNOW? Lauren’s J19 women’s quad success at the 2021 Irish Rowing Championships was her first national title for Skibbereen Rowing Club. The odds are it is the first of many.

 

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DARRAGH McELHINNEY

ATHLETICS | GLENGARRIFF | 21

Incredibly, given all he has already achieved in sport, the Glengarriff athlete is still only 21 years old – and while this will be Darragh’s last time included in our Next Generation special, let’s acknowledge what an outstanding young talent he is.

He has been the leader of West Cork’s Next Generation since his early teens and his impressive collection of medals, records and titles highlights how he is delivering on his potential. It’s easy to see why he is one of the top young athletes in the country.

Last December the UCD student enjoyed his best-ever result when he won a sensational silver medal in the men’s 8000m U23 men’s race at the European Cross-Country Championships, while also leading the Irish team to gold. It was one of his best performances ever, and given his stacked CV, that’s saying something.

Defending Ireland’s U23 European cross-country title in Italy in December is one of Darragh’s targets, but before that he wants to compete in the 3000m at the 2022 World Indoor Championships in Belgrade next month. Racing in the men’s 5000m, with one eye on the final, at the European Athletics Championships in Munich in August is on his to-do list, as well.

DID YOU KNOW? Darragh is the first West Cork athlete to run a sub four-minute mile. He ran 3:58.20 in London last summer.

AARON MANNIX

SOCCER | DUNMANWAY | 17

Dunmanway is forging a name for itself as a goalkeeping hot spot. Current Liverpool number two Caoimhín Kelleher has strong links to the town through his late grandfather Timothy and late father Ray, while Aaron Mannix is another young goalkeeper worth keeping an eye on.

The former Dunmanway Town shot-stopper, who has been involved in the Republic of Ireland underage international set-up, is now on the books with Cork City – and his reputation is growing. Last season he was between the posts for City’s U17s and he was instrumental in their National League of Ireland U17 Mark Farren Cup final triumph.

This year Aaron, a fifth-year student in MICC Dunmanway, is stepping up to the Cork City U19s and he has sights set on the number one jersey. There’s a lot of hard work involved, including training three nights a week with a game at the weekend, but he’s ready to kick on.

The hope, too, is that Aaron will get called into City’s senior set-up for training and that would be another boost in his development. Another impressive season could also lead to more international recognition for one of the safest pairs of hands in West Cork.

DID YOU KNOW? Aaron was named man-of-the-match when Cork City won the U17 Mark Farren Cup last November after he produced a number of brilliant saves in Cork City’s 2-1 triumph against Galway United.

 

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ORLAITH DEASY

SOCCER | CLONAKILTY | 17

Orlaith played a big role in the rise of Clonakilty’s ladies’ footballers to the senior ranks, but this year the Clon teen is totally focussing on soccer. The GAA’s loss will certainly be soccer’s gain as she looks to take the next step with Cork City Women’s FC.

Orlaith has been part of City’s U17 set-up these past few years and has enjoyed success there, impressing in defence when City won the U17 Women’s National League title for the first time in their history in 2020, while also featuring on the Irish national U17 development squad. Last season City finished as runners-up in the 2021 EA Sports Women’s U17 National League of Ireland Cup when they were narrowly defeated (2-1) by Peamount United; Orlaith started in defence.

The versatile defender, a student at Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty, can play anywhere along the back four. She started her journey with Bandon AFC before then impressing for Cork in the Gaynor Cup. Orlaith, now out of U17, is currently training with Cork City’s senior women’s team and that’s another step forward in her development as she learns what is needed to play at the higher levels. City will also have an U19 women’s team this season, so Orlaith should get plenty of opportunities to impress.

DID YOU KNOW? Orlaith’s first cousin, Niamh Cotter, is a part of the Cork City Women’s FC U17 squad.

SCOTT BUCKLEY

RUGBY | KINSALE | 21

It’s not a secret that West Cork is a hotbed for rugby talent right now, and Scott is one of the latest off the conveyor belt. He hit the headlines in December 2021 with a try-scoring player-of-the-match performance on his Munster debut in the Champions Cup win over Wasp; what a stage to announce your arrival.

Since then the Kinsale man has signed a two-year deal with Munster and been promoted to the senior squad ahead of next season. It’s all happening very fast for the highly-rated hooker who is a product of Kinsale RFC and Christian Brothers College Cork. In 2019 Scott captained CBC to the Munster Schools Senior Cup while he has lined out for Ireland at U18 and U19 levels, so he’s been on the radar for quite some time.

Scott only joined the Greencore Munster Rugby Academy in the summer of 2020, but already has earned his spot in the senior squad.

‘Scott, in particular since that Wasps performance, has gone to the next level,’ added Munster Rugby Academy Manager Ian Costello, and odds are we’ll be seeing a lot more of the Kinsale man in the months and years ahead.

DID YOU KNOW? As well as Scott signing a new Munster deal, Skibbereen’s Liam Coombes, Bandon’s James French and Rosscarbery’s John Hodnett have all agreed new Munster contracts in recent weeks.

 

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ROBERT CRONIN

KARTING | BALLYLICKEY | 17

With so many of the Cronin family involved in various spectrums of motorsport, first names become all the more important. While rallying is the first discipline that springs to mind when mentioning the Cronin dynasty, Robert, just like his younger brother Colin, is very much focussed on karting in the year ahead.

He will participate in the five-round KZ2 2022 WERA British Karting Championship where he will race with the Carrigadrohid-based DMS (Daly Motorsport) outfit. The geared class is the fastest among the short circuit British Championships with karters reaching 90mph at most tracks. F1 champion Max Verstappen is a former graduate of the class that is extremely popular across Europe.

Robert first competed in karting in Mondello Park in mid 2018 and once he became familiar with the other tracks around Ireland he became ultra-competitive in the Senior X30 Championship. Last year’s results in the Motorsport Ireland Kart Championship saw him qualify as part of the Motorsport Ireland team that participated in the Iame World Finals in Italy.  That experience was profound, it was also a huge and beneficial learning curve. With so many event clashes, participation in the 2022 Irish karting scene is likely to be minimal.

DID YOU KNOW? Robert’s younger brother, Colin, is another to keep an eye on and both competed in the Iame World Finals in Italy last October.

 

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FIONN HARRINGTON

ATHLETICS | BANDON | 19

These days Fionn is a freshman at the University of Central Arkansas where he is in the first year of a four-year scholarship, having left Bandon last August. So far, so good for the student-athlete, as he’s enjoying his American adventure, and it’s shown him what he needs to do to develop into a top athlete.

He ran an indoor 3000m PB in Alabama last month and hopes to finish his first season in the States with personal bests in all his events.

Before he left West Cork last summer Fionn was in flying form, and, amongst the headline performances were winning the Irish junior men’s 3000m steeplechase title and also qualifying to represent Ireland in the men’s 3000m at the European U20 Championship in Tallinn, Estonia. Fionn also finished an excellent sixth in the senior men’s 3000m steeplechase at the senior Irish championships.

2022 is also Fionn’s first year at U23 level – and he will be up against quality athletes like Darragh McElhinney here – so it’s another big step up and he wants to establish himself in that age group. Blessed with great stamina, the former Bandon GAA player says himself he could run all the day, as he continues making strides forward.

DID YOU KNOW? Fionn set Personal Bests in the one mile (4:16.23), 3000m (8:22.00), 5000m (14:31.19) and the 300m steeplechase (9:20.90) last year.

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