The county U21FC roll of honour is beginning to develop into a duopoly. Tonight, Nemo Rangers go in search of their third win in four years, having been victorious in 2012 and 2014. In between, Valley Rovers claimed victory in 2013 and the provide the opposition in Páirc Uí Rinn tonight (8.15pm).
The Innishannon side feature eight of the players who saw game-time in the 2013 final win over Clonakilty — six starters and two subs — and this current group has been successful up through the ranks. Former O’Donovan Rossa player Barry Casey is the coach along with manager Paul Cronin and selector Paul Farrell, and he points to the huge numbers involved at U21 level.
“This year, we had an A and a B team, and we had a combined panel of 40 players, with only four of them being minor. Having such big numbers is a boost for when you’re training and the fact that the B team won the south-east title just shows the levels of quality.
“The one drawback is for the county final we can only name a panel of 26, it’s very tough to have to tell players we can’t tog them out when they’ve put in so much effort all year.”
A strong work ethic has been the cornerstone to the progress. “Fellas I’d know from Skibb would be asking me that they’re like,” Casey said, “and my honest answer is they’re an unbelievable bunch, the appetite they have to play and win is huge.
“The club’s senior footballers are going well too and the two go hand in hand, the teams train together and there’s a real buzz in the club, with the final and the seniors playing Ballincollig in a quarter-final. The one slight downside was the intermediate hurlers lost a couple of games and they had to win a third-round game against Inniscarra to stop themselves going into the relegation play-off. Some of the lads were involved and they put in a big effort to win and even since the hurlers have beaten Bandon so they’re in a quarter-final too.”
Last year, Nemo beat Valleys at the semi-final stage before claiming a second title in three years, but Casey doesn’t think there is any fear of his team being overawed.
“We actually played them in our first match of the year in the Glenville U21 tournament,” he says.
“We beat them in Brinny on a bad day and it mightn’t count for anything on Friday, but the thing that we’ve had to really instil in the lads is a belief they’re just as good as Nemo, it’s something they have to get used to. I’m often saying to them that they don’t realise just how good they are, they’re serious players. If they play as well as they can, they won’t be far away.”
The loss of Cork star Stephen Cronin to a leg fracture is a blow for Nemo, but they are able to call on goalkeeper Micheál Martin, Alan O’Donovan and Conor Horgan, all of whom started for the club’s seniors against Douglas. Chiedozie Ogbene made a big impact when introduced as a sub in the semi-final against Clonakilty and could be in line to start. Valleys had 13 points to spare on Fermoy, with Dara Lordan, Eoin O’Reilly, Billy Crowley and Danny O’Sullivan all scoring goals. Jack Lyons and Jack Murphy are key at centre-back and centre-forward respectively.
The sides met in the final a decade ago as well, with Nemo winning 2-11 to 2-6.
Cill na Martra beat Dromtarriffe by 11 points in their semi-final and will look to Dan Ó Duinnín, Tadhg Ó Corcora and Micheál Ó Deasúna for inspiration. Goals were the difference in Kilmeen’s last-four win over Charleville, with Damien O’Gorman, James Clancy and Shane Scannell all capable of scoring.
Cill na Martra
Kilmeen have already claimed the county JBFC title this year.