MATTHEW HURLEY REPORTS
THERE’s just no stopping Drinagh Rangers in the West Cork League Premier Division.
Dominant Drinagh clinched their third Premier Division title in a row to rubber stamp their position as the top team in the league.
Rangers needed only a draw in their final league game of the season against Bunratty United, but a 35-metre rocket from Robbie McQueen in the ninth minute saw Rangers defend the league title in style.
‘This is a massive achievement,’ co-manager Don Hurley told The Southern Star.
‘I think this year especially there were three or four strong teams in the league. Dunmanway are excellent, Bunratty are excellent, Clonakilty were very good for a long time. We only lost one game at home throughout the whole season, early on to Mizen Hob and didn’t lose at home since so that was really important. We’re delighted with that.’
Bunratty, who will contest this weekend’s Beamish Cup final, didn’t roll over for Rangers at Canon Crowley Park, and it took McQueen’s moment of magic to separate the teams.
‘The goal was worthy of winning any game,’ Hurley agreed.
‘We got an absolute wonder goal which set us up and we were able to keep hold of the lead. We probably had a few chances in the second half and could have extended the lead, but we’ll take it.’
Bunratty did offer threats throughout with Conor Brosnan coming close after four minutes. The Drinagh goal arrived soon after that, but the visitors didn’t give up with a Sean Kelleher free kick whistling over the bar.
Keith Jagoe went close for Drinagh on 20 minutes through an attempted lob before Tom McQueen hit the post midway through the half. The Drinagh forwards were buzzing around the place in the opening half but interceptions from James McKnight in particular kept Bunratty fighting.
Despite their goal chances, Drinagh still had some defensive work to do too as JJ Collins made a great interception and Jack Payne-Murphy pulled off a brilliant save from Bunratty’s Conor O’Driscoll. Robbie McQueen and Ciarán O’Regan came close on the stroke of half time to increasing the Drinagh lead but it remained 1-0.
The second half was a tale of Bunratty attacking and Drinagh sitting deep before breaking. Leaving the likes of Hurley, Barry O’Driscoll (H) and Robbie McQueen up front provided a threat, epitomised at the early stages of the second spell.
‘Eoin (Hurley) is only 17 and Barry is very experienced, so we have a great mix of youth and experience. It helps us kick on. Every one of the players work hard and we’re lucky to have such committed players,’ Don Hurley said.
Despite Bunratty having most of the possession, they rarely threatened the Drinagh goal as the champions defended well. There was a Drinagh penalty appeal for a handball but was waved away by referee Anthony McDermott with 20 minutes left. The closing stages showed the determination from Payne-Murphy, Collins and the whole Drinagh defence as they foiled Bunratty at every opportunity. That’s why they’re champions.
‘JJ Collins and Donal O’Donovan have been outstanding this season playing centre back,’ Hurley acknowledged.
‘They’ve kept us in games when we’ve been in trouble. The one time Bunratty went through, Jack Payne-Murphy made a wonderful save. Jack is a brave lad and he’s not afraid of anything.’
Jubilant scenes at the final whistle as Drinagh Rangers completed the three in a row.
Next question: can they complete the four in a row?
‘We’ll certainly be trying,’ Don Hurley answered.
The challenge for the rest of the Premier Division is how do you stop this league-winning Drinagh machine?
Drinagh Rangers: Jack Payne-Murphy, Gearóid White, JJ Collins, Donal O’Donovan, Barry O’Driscoll (T), Barry O’Driscoll (H), Ciaran O’Regan, Tom McQueen, Keith Jagoe, Robbie McQueen, Eoin Hurley.
Subs: Harry Carey, Mark Grace.
Bunratty United: Shane Bowen, Jake Coughlan, Sean Kelleher, Eoin Kelleher, James McKnight, Cathal Newman, Colm Cleary, Danny McSweeney, Conor O’Driscoll, Conor Brosnan, James O’Regan.
Subs: Sean Evans, Pa Sheehan, Ger Sweeny, Darragh O’Shea, Mark Brosnan.
Referee: Anthony McDermott.