AFTER conquering the junior A football grade in 2020, Valley Rovers are relishing the chance to show what they can do at a higher level this year.
The Brinny club dominated a quality 2020 Cork LGFA Junior A championship and deservedly gained promotion to the intermediate grade. Led by Cork senior duo Daire and Eimear Kiely, plus a group of talented up-and-coming minors, Rovers lost only once en route to claiming their county title.
Now, Valleys have momentum behind them as they look forward to bigger tests in the year ahead.
‘For me, the intermediate grade represents a great challenge for the girls,’ manager Denis Kiely says.
‘Donoughmore are up there and they only beat us by two points in a county junior final. The same goes for Glanmire who beat us the year before. It is only three years since we were playing in the Division 2 League and coming up against the likes of Clonakilty, Carbery Rangers and Bantry Blues.
‘We fared well enough against them and have nothing to fear even though they are all strong teams. A bit like ourselves. I think it will be an open (intermediate) competition with six or seven clubs capable of having a run at it.
‘The fact so many of the teams involved are West Cork based is also an incentive for the girls. A bit of local rivalry can bring the best out of teams too.’
Right now, it’s impossible to say how the 2021 sporting year will play out, but Valley Rovers possess a strong core of young players with the ability to build on last season’s heroics.
‘Players and management are really looking forward to competing in the intermediate this year,’ Kiely says.
‘We will have to put out two adult teams, as an intermediate club. That means plenty of game time for everyone though and something that should benefit all our players.
‘Valley Rovers are in a good place at the moment. Success breeds greater interest at the younger levels in the club too. That’s what a club is all about. Nurturing future players who want to emulate their heroes.’
Last year Valley Rovers put the heartbreak of losing two previous county finals behind them to end 2020 as Cork LGFA junior A champions.
A decision to field one junior squad instead of separate 15-a-side and 13-a-side teams, as in previous years, reaped dividends.
Instead, Valleys utilised a large number of players at each training session to top their championship qualifying group during a Covid-affected campaign.
Victories over Naomh Abán, Abhainn Dalla, Dohenys and Dromtarriffe underlined the Brinny side’s pedigree. A solitary 1-10 to 2-5 loss at the hands of Douglas was rectified when the two teams squared off for a second time in the junior A county final.
Having lost their two previous county deciders to Glanmire and Donoughmore, Valley Rovers manager Denis Kiely admits that a third defeat on the trot would have been difficult to take.
‘Losing to Douglas would have been a setback but only because it is so difficult to get out of the junior A grade,’ Kiely says.
‘We knew Castlehaven were coming up to an already talented junior A (after winning the junior B) grade so there was a feeling that 2020 had to be our year, especially after coming so close the two years before.
‘There are some cracking teams in junior A, Dohenys are always strong and then you have Abhainn Dalla who are also going very well. This particular championship has always been a challenging one not just for us but for every team taking part.’
Kiely, along with fellow management team members Eoghan Delaney and Denis Mulvihill, needn’t have worried. A rampant Rovers would not be denied for a third successive year.
Valleys buried the memories of previous county final heartbreak with a dominant display to see off Douglas.
Michelle O’Regan played an important role in Valley’s success. The club captain scored 1-7 of her side’s winning total during a 2-17 to 2-3 victory in Waterfall. Cliona Reardon was the newly crowned champions’ other goal-scorer.
‘It was a bit strange at the final whistle because we knew we had it won with about ten minutes to go, we were well ahead at that stage,’ Denis Kiely says.
‘For me personally, relief was probably the overriding feeling. The elation you usually associate with a county final victory was missing as there were no supporters present. It was a case of walking off the field and saying to ourselves, thank God we have done it.
‘Had we lost a third county final in a row, especially after losing the previous two, that would have made for a difficult year. The girls deserved the county (title) more than anyone having worked so hard not just last year but over the last couple of years.
‘You could see a real joy and satisfaction in the girls’ faces when it was all over.’