VALLEY Rovers’ rise up the Cork LGFA ranks has resulted in the Brinny club reaching the senior grade for the 2022 county championship.
It has been a long and sometimes frustrating road but Valley Rovers start the new year as a senior LGFA club. The Brinny-based outfit has endured plenty of heartache and county final losses along the way before annexing the 2020 junior A title. Rovers followed that up by causing a shock in their first year competing at the intermediate grade and overcoming Glanmire to secure back-to-back county championships.
For manager Denis Kiely and his backroom team, cultivating a quality panel has been key to Valley’s success. The 2020 junior A county champions entered the intermediate grade with a simple goal.
‘Our goal was to win the 2021 intermediate county championship,’ Denis Kiely told The Southern Star.
‘We knew that there were a lot of very good teams already up there but, looking back over the previous three or four championships, the junior champions managed to go on and win the intermediate. I think a lot of that is to do with momentum and the fact that the junior and intermediate grades are very similar.
‘We had lost three starting players from our junior county-winning panel but were lucky to have so many good, young players coming up from minor. Valley Rovers got to the 2021 minor B county final and were unlucky to lose by a point to Naomh Abán. The likes of 17-year-old Lucy Callanan has come through the ranks and is one of the most talented players to feature for us at adult level in a long time. We knew we had the underage structures to support us. Valleys had previously lost a lot of talented footballers in their mid-20s so keeping the panel together was a big job for us. We succeeded in doing that.’
A big win away to Donoughmore in Valley’s 2021 intermediate championship debut was followed by a heavy loss at home to Glanmire. Those group results meant Rovers were drawn away to a battle-hardened Araglen Desmonds Buí in the last four of the county. What followed were drawn and replayed semi-finals in which Valley Rovers came of age to earn a county final berth.
Michelle O’Regan (0-5), Daire Kiely (1-1), Eimear Kiely (0-2), and Laoise Collins (0-2) scored in a 1-10 to 1-10 draw in Kiskeam. The semi-final replay proved just as tight in Brinny but Valleys edged the result 2-10 to 1-10 and progressed to the county decider. Eimear Kiely (0-5), Daire Kiely (0-3), Lucy Callanan and Cliona O’Riordan (1-0 each), Michelle O’Regan and Laoise Collins (0-1 each) scored in the replay. Club captain Michelle O’Regan couldn’t have been prouder of her team-mates efforts over the course of two intense outings.
‘Those two Araglen matches definitely stood to us,’ O’Regan commented.
‘Every player on the team said it afterwards, how much those two games brought us on. We really had to dig deep. As a team, winning that semi-final, especially after a replay, really brought us together. Everyone had to support each other, every score counted.
‘Experiencing that kind of pressure, making sure you did not give the ball away in such a high-pressure situation, made us a better team. Going into the final, having two such competitive, physical games under our belts gave us some newfound confidence too.
‘Over the semi-final, the replay, and the final itself, you could see what a huge difference having such a big panel made to Valley Rovers this year. We needed every single player on our panel as we ended up using four if not five subs in each of the three matches.’
A neutral venue was not available for the Valley Rovers and Glanmire’s intermediate county final. That led to a coin-toss in which Rovers won and got to stage the decider on their home ground in Brinny.
‘It was a huge advantage to get to play our county final at home,’ Michelle O’Regan admitted.
‘Brinny is one of the driest pitches in the county and that suited us on the day. There was a huge crowd up on ‘the bank’ as well, probably the biggest I’ve seen in any game I’ve played there. It was a big advantage to us. You could hear the roar from the crowd anytime the ball went over the bar or a good tackle was made.’
O’Regan’s first-half goal proved the game’s crucial score. O’Regan top scored with 1-4 on an afternoon, but Valleys were pushed to the limit by Glanmire. Yet, additional Eimear Kiely (0-3) and Daire Kiely (0-1) scores cemented a memorable Valley Rovers 1-8 to 0-9 county final triumph.
‘We learned a valuable lesson from Glanmire in the group stages and saw what a fabulous team they are when you give them space to play,’ manager Denis Kiely said.
‘Glanmire beat us 5-17 to 1-9 that first day. They have some seriously talented players and space is the most valuable thing out on a football pitch. So, our number one goal in the county final was to deny the Glanmire forwards any space.
‘We played what we call an ‘eleven and four’ that day. Eleven defenders and four attackers. That was the only tactic we could play in the final but it worked. That set-up means you never look like you are playing well but you can still win. That’s what we did against Glanmire and was the only way we were going to win.’
Since then, Valley Rovers reached a 2021 Munster LGFA intermediate semi-final only to lose out to Monagea from Limerick. That result cannot detract from what has been another marvellous year for the Brinny club.
Going up to the senior ranks will not be easy but, nonetheless, it is a challenge Rovers management and players are looking forward to.
‘It is great to be a senior club now and the reaction of all the younger supporters when we came back to the village to celebrate this year’s intermediate county final victory was special,’ Michelle O’Regan added.
‘Since winning the county final, there is real ambition there from the younger players. We are a senior club now and they want to be a part of that. They want to play senior for Valley Rovers. That’s great to see.’