LAST WORD COLUMN BY KIERAN McCARTHY
I’M always reminded of the late John Corcoran when I hear the calls for Cork inter-county football games to be played in West Cork.
The late Carbery chairman beat that particular drum constantly and loudly so it would be heard all the way up in the city by the powers-that-be.
Big John’s reasoning is still as relevant now as it was back then.
‘As you travel through the division you can only be amazed with the level of facilities being provided by all the clubs. This is a testament to the importance of Gaelic games in this part of the county,’ Corcoran told the Carbery AGM in 2014.
‘As a consequence I am again calling on the county board to allocate at least one senior inter-county fixture involving the Cork football team to this division where the majority of the Cork football support resides.’
Now, in 2019, we have a first step towards a West Cork venue hosting a senior inter-county game with the news that Clonakilty will stage the meeting of Cork U20s and Kerry U20s in the opening round of the John Kerins Cup this Wednesday, 29th (7pm).
This is a new U20 football development league involving Cork, Kerry, Galway, Dublin and Kildare, with all the games taking place between May 29th and June 15th. It’s ideal preparation for Keith Ricken’s Cork U20s ahead of the Munster U20 football championship in July.
Depending on the result in the provincial quarter-final between Waterford and Clare, if Waterford win then the semi-final against Cork will also be held in Clonakilty on July 11th.
Again, another step in the right direction, and the news of next week’s meeting of Cork and Kerry U20s in Clonakilty has been given the thumbs up by current Carbery GAA Chairman Tom Lyons who has, like John Corcoran before him, called on Cork GAA to do whatever they can to bring an inter-county Cork football team to play a meaningful match in West Cork.
‘It’s something we have been after for a long time,’ Lyons said.
‘We want to see a Cork team in action in a serious game and that West Cork supporters get the chance to watch a Cork football team at home.
‘Big John, God rest him, was the first man that pushed it really hard, to get Cork footballers back to West Cork because we would still claim that this is the home of Cork football.
‘I think it will pay dividends down the road if supporters can see players from their own clubs playing in their own area. This is the first step. We will be looking for a national league game down the road.’
Cork U20 boss Ricken is another to endorse a West Cork club hosting an inter-county game. He said: ‘In time, I’d love to see more of it because Cork football is bigger than just having the games in the city.’
He added: ‘I was at the Skibb-Haven U21 semi-final in Kilmacabea and the place was thronged. It was the same for final, Skibb and Dohenys in Castlehaven, a great atmosphere, and I felt it would be good to bring the Cork team there.
‘I said it to (county board secretary) Kevin O’Donovan and he was in agreement. Clon is a lovely venue and all the West Cork lads have to come up to the city for training so it’s nice to go back down there.’
Now that Clonakilty will host this game, West Cork football supporters need to turn out in numbers next Wednesday to support the Rebels. This isn’t a senior national league game but this is, hopefully, the first step towards that.
For too long West Cork clubs have been hauled up to the city for county championship games. Go back to 2015 when Castlehaven and O’Donovan Rossa had to drive past Clonakilty’s GAA complex on their way to Páirc Uí Rinn to play a Cork SFC semi-final. It made no sense.
But common sense was applied last year when the Cork senior hurling championship round three meeting of Newcestown and Bandon was held in Clonakilty – despite pressure being applied to bring two West Cork teams up to the city. The crowd that day packed Ahamilla. It showed that Clon is an ideal venue for big games and it highlighted too that there is an appetite locally for matches of this ilk, and bigger, to be held here in West Cork. As Denis Hurley pointed out in his match report: ‘Clonakilty’s perfect hosting was proof that big games like this can be held outside the city.’
Again, when Newcestown and Bandon were drawn together in the opening round of the Cork SHC this season, Clonakilty was the ideal venue once more.
There’s not just Clonakilty as an option, though its location makes it appealing. Castlehaven GAA’s covered all-seater stand that can hold just under 700 supporters is another option for inter-county games in West Cork such as the Cork U20s. There are top-class facilities in this division.
But what matters now is that fans turn out to support the Cork U20s against Kerry on Wednesday. What we don’t want is a small crowd and then when the Carbery GAA Board pushes to bring a Cork national league game to West Cork, that they’re retorted with stats of a small turnout at an U20 game.
In the five-year plan to lift Cork football it was noted that ‘stronger engagement of Cork GAA public with Cork football teams’ is wanted. Bringing the Cork football team into a division that regards itself as ‘the home of Cork football’ and a football stronghold seems a logical step. If all goes well with the Cork U20 footballers and West Cork opens its arms, this might just be the spark that’s needed for bigger games to follow.