IT’S not as if Gabriel Rangers needed an extra incentive, but there are two big prizes on offer to the winner of their intermediate football championship semi-final against Dromtarriffe in Coachford on Saturday afternoon.
The victor will advance to the county final as usual, but they will also guarantee their place in next season’s revamped 12-team Premier Intermediate football championship. There are two spots in the new 2020 Premier Intermediate championship for this season’s intermediate finalists.
In effect, Saturday’s game is a promotion final as well as a county semi-final.
‘If we get through on Saturday, then we go up to Premier Intermediate next year as well, so it’s a very big game for us,’ says Gabriels’ experienced forward Mark Cronin, who points out the importance of the game in terms of the bigger picture.
‘We have a lot of very good young players coming through and we want to test ourselves at the higher levels and improve by playing the top teams.
‘We have pretty much the same team for the last few years but there are some young fellas coming through like Jordie O’Brien and Killian O’Sullivan, and Kieran Roycroft has been a major addition to us. Then next year we have four or five minors who will be in contention – two Cork minors in Keith O’Driscoll and James O’Regan, and there is Luka Bowen and a few more who will be pushing the team next year.
‘If we win on Saturday, it’s an important step forward for the club.’
Cronin (33) is one of the more experienced players on the Gabriels team. He was captain in that memorable 2016 season when they won the Carbery and county JAFC titles to earn their spot in the intermediate championship. That campaign is the stuff of legend in the Schull-Ballydehob club. Now the team that stands between them and a county final spot is last year’s Cork JAFC winners, Dromtarriffe, conquerors of Kilmacabea in the county final.
In fact, three of the semi-finalists in this season’s IFC are Duhallow clubs, with Knocknagree and Millstreet in the other semi-final this weekend.
‘Dromtarriffe are flying it this season. They have beaten Millstreet, Glenville and Ballydesmond in the replay so they’ve beaten some good teams there. They had a great league and lost only two games, both to Na Piarsaigh. Other than that they are unbeaten and they are a club on the rise,’ Cronin points out.
He didn’t go watch Dromtariffe in their quarter-final replay win against Ballydesmond. Instead, he focuses on his own game and beating his own man, and he’s determined to make up for a quiet game against Kinsale in Gabriels’ 0-12 to 0-10 quarter-final win in Dunmanway. It was Eddie Goggin with five points who led the charge in that win, but Cronin still finished with two points. If he can bring his goal-scoring form from Ballydehob with the West Cork League, he’ll be happy.
‘It’s been one of my best starts in a while, seven goals in four or five games. I’ve taken the shinpads off, it’s all football these weeks and hopefully I can bang in a few on Saturday,’ he says.
That victory against Kinsale came over five months after the Round 1 win against Adrigole, and in between Gabriels stuttered in the league too with four wins from ten games.
‘The hardest thing was to keep it going in between the two games, there was a long break. To be honest, we had a poor enough league campaign and the main thing there was to avoid relegation because we were missing a lot of players throughout the league. We were happy enough to stay up because we never had a full team,’ he says.
Numbers are solid now, and as well as the young guns keeping fellas on their toes, some of the older guard are having great seasons like Darren O’Mahony in goal and Liam Hegarty in defence, who are both 33 years old like Cronin. Then there is the ever-green Pat Nolan, 48 years old, who makes the trip from Lombardstown near Mallow back home for training every week and came on as a sub in the win against Kinsale.
Piecing the jigsaw together this season is manager Brian Hayes who took over when Mike O’Brien was appointed Castlehaven senior manager. Hayes was a popular appointment, he was in charge when Gabriels won the Carbery JAFC in 2010 and he knows the club inside out and what it takes to win.