Ger McCarthy looks ahead to this year’s Rochestown Park Hotel sponsored Division 1 senior football League in which five West Cork clubs will compete for top honours.
Published in the Evening Echo – January 2017
West Cork clubs are preparing for their upcoming county football league campaigns in a revamped structure following a county board review.
In this year’s top division, five west Cork sides; Carbery Rangers, Castlehaven, Clonakilty, Ilen Rovers and O’Donovan Rossa will contest an eleven-club league hoping to dethrone 2016 Kelleher Shield winners Nemo Rangers.
Disappointingly, another Carbery representative, Newcestown, find themselves demoted to Division 2 along with Bishopstown, Douglas and Clyda.
Earlier this week, the Evening Echo’s Mark Woods outlined the Cork county board’s reasoning behind a decision to reduce the number of teams across each of the competing leagues and introduce a new fifth division. That subsequent revamp means Newcestown will not play in this season’s top tier despite finishing tenth in a fourteen-club division at the end of 2016.
Missing out on an opportunity to compete against some of the county’s top ranked senior teams is not the preparation Newcestown or their Cork SFC preliminary round opponents Douglas were hoping for. Yet, the likes of Bishopstown, Éire Óg, Macroom and Cill na Martra should still provide decent opposition for a Newcestown team that overcame Aghada and UCC before bowing out to Avondhu during their previous championship odyssey.
Defending county champions Carbery Rangers finished top of the Rochestown Park Hotel Football Division 1 league standings last year only to lose 2-12 to 0-9 to Nemo in the semi-finals. That defeat came a month after claiming their first Cork SFC title however and Rangers’ new management team of Maurice Moore and Shane Crowley will be eager to hit the ground running and maintain the west Cork club’s high level of consistency in the competition.
Intriguingly, a draft programme (all fixtures subject to change) of Division 1 fixtures displayed on the Cork GAA website has Carbery Rangers hosting Castlehaven in their opening league encounter. The two clubs didn’t face one another in competitive action last year and the prospect of a feisty west Cork derby between two rivals would attract a large crowd to Rosscarbery, albeit so early in the campaign.
At the time of writing, the Haven’ are yet to announce their new manager for the coming season but possess a squad capable of challenging for the Kelleher Shield. A record of ten wins and two losses from their 2016 league fixture-list preceded a one-point win over Valley Rovers in the semi-finals and two-point loss to Nemo in the decider. Having lost the previous two Division 1 finals, another top-four finish is well within Castlehaven’s reach.
Clonakilty missed out on a league semi-final berth by a single point and subsequent play-off last year but a fifth overall finish represented a much improved showing for Paul Holland’s side. Notable victories over Castlehaven, O’Donovan Rossa and Ilen Rovers plus a 0-12 to 0-12 draw with eventual league champions Nemo Rangers bodes well for the Brewery Town who are expected to continue integrating members of their U21 and minor panels.
2015 Kelleher Shield winners O’Donovan Rossa endured a difficult follow-up campaign, finishing mid-table in Shane Crowley’s final term as bainisteoir before joining Carbery Rangers. Now under the tutelage of Ned English, the Skibbereen club are aiming for a higher finish this time around and will no doubt look to inter-county players Ryan Price, Donal Óg Hodnett and Daniel Hazel as well as a talented U21 panel for inspiration.
Ed Sheehy takes charge of Ilen Rovers for the coming year and will be hopeful of building on a positive twelve months for the Rath/Baltimore side. Rovers U21’s claimed the Carbery ‘A’ title and reached the county decider whilst the senior panel also enjoyed a productive summer, rebounding from a heavy preliminary round loss to Avondhu to overcome Dohenys and Carrigaline in consecutive rounds.
Castlehaven ended Ilen’s interest in the Cork SFC at the fourth round stage but a positive showing plus the addition of a host of talented U21’s suggests Rovers will improve on last year’s league record of five wins and a draw.
Aside from the five west Cork representatives, Nemo Rangers will start as favourites to reclaim a Division 1 League trophy they won on December 1st. Ballincollig, under new management, and St. Finbarr’s will also fancy their chances whilst Ballingeary and Mallow should relish the opportunity to face senior championship opponents in a division completed by Valley Rovers inclusion.