Back in the spotlight on football’s western front

TOMORROW evening’s West Cork junior football decider in Skibbereen is dripping with novelty and charm.

Clann na Gael and Gabriel Rangers have not been accustomed to playing under the spotlight in recent years and were not the market leaders at the start of this season to be final contestants. The draw pitched them together in the first round when Clann na Gael triumphed 3-8 to 0-8 but Gabriel Rangers recovered from that loss to manoeuvre through the backdoor and tomorrow they will be seeking their elusive first crown at this level.

“It’s a massive occasion,” admits Gabriel Rangers manager Brian Hayes. “It’s great to see the flags out in Schull and Ballydehob. Five years ago we got to the final as well, but there wasn’t the same buzz that there is now. For any small club reaching a divisional final is a big thing and especially for us, considering we’ve reached so few. We lost finals in 1979, 1983 and 2005, but you always keep battling on and live in hope.”

Clann na Gael have endured a barren run since their last title in 1981 and slipped back to junior B ranks at the start of this decade. They claimed county honours at that grade in 2006 to gain promotion and now the club affectionately known as ‘The Scorchers’ – named after Drimoleague man Jack O’Mahony who played in the early 20th century and was called ‘The Scorcher’ due to the rasping shot for goal that became his calling card – are bidding for glory again.

“It’s a very exciting time for everyone in Drimoleague and Drinagh,” reveals Clann na Gael selector and player Paul O’Rourke. “I remember us getting to finals back in the 80s and not winning, and after going back to the B grade, it’s a huge occasion now to be in a West Cork A final. With all the big teams in the division, not many would have fancied the two of us to reach the decider but you have to seize the chance.”

Gabriel Rangers’ aspirations got a nice fillip last Sunday when Stephen O’Mahony was part of the Cork side that defeated Galway in an epic All-Ireland minor semi-final.

“It was great to see a lad from the club involved,” says Hayes.

“Stephen is the first Gabriels man to ever play in Croke Park and the first to ever play in an All-Ireland final. That’s a fantastic achievement and adds to the significance of this year for the parish.

“We’ve some other good players, our midfielder Pat Nolan was the first to play for Cork when he was a minor in the early 90s and Mark Cronin our corner-forward is a superb scorer. The whole panel has worked hard and deserve to be in a final now.”

Clann na Gael’s development this year has been anchored by a stream of young talent coming through in recent seasons and an enlightened decision this year to enter the city junior football leagues.

“It’s the first year, it was the brainchild of Tomas Hayes and Adrian O’Driscoll,” says O’Rourke.

“We’ve 26 games played, we’ve learn a lot, every game is worth three or four training sessions, you learn a lot about mental and physical strength.

“A lot of guys are based in the city, eight in college, three in Dublin, three in Limerick.

“We’ve got a good couple of underage teams coming through. They’re good at the last five minutes, they don’t throw in the towel.

“It’s a great show of strength from those underage officers. Hopefully we can win a West Cork junior title.”

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