SEAN White and Clonakilty have been in this position before. Last season, just like this campaign, they won their first group game in the Premier senior football championship – but then it all unravelled.
After beating Carrigaline in their 2020 group opener, Clon then lost to Ballincollig and St Finbarr’s, as they missed out on a place in the knock-out stages.
Earlier this month Clon beat Ilen Rovers 3-10 to 0-11 in their 2021 Group A opener and their next two games are eerily similar to last year. It’s Ballincollig this Saturday in Newcestown (5.30pm) and then the Barrs await next month in their final group game.
Clon slipped up last season, but they’re intent on not making the same mistakes again. They can show they’ve improved as a team when they face Ballincollig this Saturday. In last year’s clash Ballincollig led 0-7 to 0-0 after ten minutes and ran out 2-17 to 1-10 winners in Ennisekeane – the size of that loss ultimately cost Clon.
‘Internally we would feel that we let ourselves down last year,’ Cork football Sean White says.
‘We didn’t give our greatest performance against Ballincollig, we were seven points down early on so we were chasing the game after. That had a knock-on effect against St Finbarr’s because we knew we had to beat them by seven or eight points and with the calibre of players they have, that’s no easy feat – and we ended up losing the match.’
Clonakilty can take positives from their win against Ilen Rovers in Rosscarbery. They scored three goals through Dara Ó Sé (2) and Ross Mannix, conceded none and also gave Ilen no real goal chances of note. The Clon game plan worked. Maurice Shanley also made his first appearance since November 2020. All positives to build on.
‘Defensively (against Ilen) we didn’t give up any real goal-scoring opportunities so from a defensive point of view we were happy with that,’ White says.
‘The knock-on effect of bringing as many people as we did back is that we do have the forwards with pace up the other side of the pitch. If we do manage to turn over the ball and get it forward there is so much space for our forwards to run into and it seems to benefit them as well. That led to our first and third goals against Ilen so there are benefits defensively and offensively.’
The hope in the Clonakilty camp now is to build on that win and performance when they meet Ballincollig this Saturday.
Like in 2020, the latter lost their opener to St Finbarr’s (2-15 to 1-17) so they need a win to get back on track. The plot lines are quite similar now, but Clon know a victory here, coupled with Barrs beating Ilen, will send them into the knock-out stages with one game to spare.
This is a chance for Clon, now under Haulie O’Neill’s management, to show they have learned from their 2020 shortcomings.
‘We felt that last year we gave ourselves a massive hill to climb at the start of the match against Ballincollig,’ White says.
‘We were seven down early on and we did get it back to four or five in the first half but that extra effort to pull it back meant we tired towards the end, and they pulled away again.
‘The way the groups are now, scoring difference came against us completely when we went to play the Barrs. This is a big game for us and it’s a chance to see how far we have come in the last 12 months.’
It’s the ideal game, too, to see if Clon have learned their lesson from last year’s crushing loss to Ballincollig. White feels they’re in a better place now. Time to show that on Saturday.