Valley Rovers searching for the summit

One of Ireland’s greatest coaching personalities, Declan Kidney, once said during his second reign as Munster Rugby head coach - one that saw the Cork man guide his province to European Cups in 2006 and 2008 - that “if you keep knocking, the door will eventually open”. Munster had been to two finals (in 2000 and ’02) and lost; then, against all odds, his teams realised what some deemed the impossible dream.
Valley Rovers searching for the summit

Eoghan Delaney isn’t a dreamer. Very much a realist, the Valley Rovers forward might see some truth in Kidney’s words of wisdom. Sporting philosophies are, arguably, transferable to both team and individual pursuits.

Valleys, like Munster and similar to many teams or individual sportspeople out there, are on an odyssey of sorts. With County U21 ‘A’ successes from 2013 and 2015 offering hope for the breakthrough, the time may be ripe for the Innishannon-based club to knock down Heaven’s door.

In some ways the journey of this remarkable group of players mirrors not Munster but that of the Bantry Blues teams of the 1990s. Within a decade the west Cork men accumulated two Cork U21 ‘A’ titles, a (full) intermediate title, and SFC titles (1995 and 1998). Valley’s, too, are reeling in the trophies this past decade, but are very much grounded in the reality that senior club football in Cork can precipitate earth-shattering disappointments.

Last year, for instance, the high of overcoming 2015 county finalists, Carbery Rangers, was juxtaposed with the low of succumbing to then champions, Ballincollig.

Their league form in 2016 is decent, but so was Ilen Rovers’ who were brought crashing down to earth by a highly-motivated Avondhu side, Valley’s opponents tomorrow in Watergrasshill.

Barry Casey coaches the Rovers. Casey, settled in Innishannon, was a member of the 1993 O’Donovan Rossa squad that attained All-Ireland senior football club glory and is ably assisted by Paul Cronin (manager) and Paul Farrell (selector).

This coaching ticket oversaw the Valleys’ success at U21 level last season when they overcame Nemo Rangers after a replay.

“Our manager, Paul Cronin, always says there are numerous clubs in Cork who are fairly envious of Valley Rovers’ position at the moment,” observes Delaney, who captained the Valleys’ U21s to county glory over Clonakilty in ‘13. “Innishannon is a small place, but the numbers coming through are phenomenal, too, and the quality of player coming through is very promising. It’s all about keeping these players now.

“The hunger is in the whole club as well with success over the last number of years. Guys who might have retired at 27 or 28 are coming back because they see the results. There’s a junior team here that’s very competitive, there’s a senior team that’s very competitive. The hunger is there but we know it is a step up in intensity to play and win at senior level.”

Delaney continues: “It does take commitment, those long cold nights travelling up and down to training. Most fellas are either in college or working. A few fellas like Tomás O’Brien and Tadhg O’Brien come down from Limerick twice a week. At the start of pre-season we had 60 players on the pitch.”

Earlier this month Valleys achieved a four-in-a-row in South East U21 A titles to emulate the club’s U21 teams of the mid-1990s that, in many ways, provided the foundation stones for the club’s successes in the following decade.

“So far so good this season,” admits Delaney. “Looking back to last year the win over Carbery Rangers was that extra bit special. Getting two late goals. It was a good platform but one we couldn’t build on as the season edged on without a championship game.”

Valleys played Ballincollig three months after the first round win.

“We then got to the Premier IHC final, and maybe being out of the football benefitted the hurling. I don’t know. The break (for football) was long. Hopefully, the new format will help the championship a small bit. We started back the second week of January this year, like most clubs, doing the hard slog. We entered the Tadhg Crowley Cup this year, a pre-season tournament. Winning it was a bonus and helped us get fitter for this time of the year. And you’d be surprised how competitive the Kelleher Shield is but there is a step-up in intensity to championship football.” Valley’s are fully of aware of the task that lies in wait: an Avondhu squad that contains a lovely mix of youth and experience; sprinkled with an array of inter-county talent. “It’s so important to get that first win in the first round of the championship. No one wants to start the championship off on a bad note.

“It has been a mixed bag in the league. We’re suffering losses when it comes to playing the bigger traditionally successful teams, but we’re all trying to get to the level of the Nemos and the Castlehavens of this world. We are a relatively new team to the Kelleher Shield, we are learning, players coming from the U21 teams, so it’s all a really good experience for those guys.”

And, maybe, just maybe, county senior football success beckons for this generation of Valleys’ men. When? That’s the million-dollar question. Avondhu, however, may have something to say about the Valley odyssey tomorrow evening.

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