Strange having a 27-year-old being one of the elder statesmen of a club’s football team but such is the changing landscape of Valley Rovers, now just 60 minutes away from restoring their status as a senior football club in Cork.
Tomorrow, they take on Na Piarsaigh in Cork’s Premier IFC final hoping for a return to the top tier after being relegated by Dohenys in 2011.
Fiachra Lynch, 10 years on the squad this year, has been there for their rise from lower intermediate obscurity to the exalted high of senior football for the first time in 2010, so he’s more qualified than most to assess where they are now.
“Things were looking fairly down at the end of 2011 for us, when Dohenys beat is by 10 points in the relegation final,” he says. “That was only a few years ago but there’s been a good influx of U21s and they’ve brought a new impetus to it. Very few, if any, were playing in 2011 and that freshness and vigour they’ve brought has been great for us. We were unlucky last year in the semi-final against Macroom, we just didn’t perform but hopefully we can change that tomorrow,” he added.
“We’ve a very good panel now and there’s a real never-say-die attitude. You saw that last year in the U21 county final against Clon, when they were dead and buried with six minutes to go, they pulled it out of the fire, and that’s a testament to the attitude. We have a strange panel in a way, a few older fellas like myself, Kevin (Canty, 28), Noel (O’Donovan, 26) and Alan (Quirke 38) have been around a few years but the younger lads have come in the last couple of years and really freshened it up. We’ve a real mix of youth and experience, but it’s a good mix.”
The sides have had contrasting runs to tomorrow’s final; Rovers are unbeaten at the summit of Division Two, having won nine from 11, while Na Piarsaigh prop up Division Three of the County Football League, after two wins from nine. Na Piarsaigh were also beaten in their opening two rounds and were staring down the barrel of a relegation final but for a late escape against Kiskeam in round three. That form, however, matters not a jot, believes Lynch.
“We’d a good year in the league but Championship is a different story, it’s a one-off, it’s a county final, anything can happen. I’m sure if you went back over games through the years there were clubs going very well and in good positions and they ended up losing, so we’re not paying any attention to that.
“Piarsaigh are battle hardened, they’ve fought back from difficult positions and won in replays so that tells you what kind of determination is in them. Their focus is normally on hurling and that was a factor in losing their two opening-round games in the football. They had their backs against the wall against Kiskeam in the third round and they pulled it out of the bag and we know the longer they’re in Championship, the more dangerous they are,” he deduced.
One of Valley Rovers’ biggest problems when they went up senior in 2010 was their inability to chalk up enough scores. Coupled with that has been the loss of key players, with Shane Nolan and Chris O’Donovan transferring to Castlehaven and Bishopstown respectively.
But those blows have been absorbed and Lynch, a primary school teacher in the city who runs his own physical therapy business in Innishannon, says they wouldn’t be at all out of their depth at the top level again, should they emerge victorious tomorrow.
“Certainly not, but at the same time Na Piarsaigh wouldn’t be afraid of it either. Both teams probably deserve to be up, and rightly so; we’ve both won a few important games this year — they beat a very good Bantry side in the semi-final — who wouldn’t be out of their depth at all at senior and we beat Carrigaline who’ve some really talented players.
“A big problem for us before was scoring, but all year there’s been a lot of fellas popping up, a lot of the younger fellas have kicked important scores the last two years, our free-taker Hughie O’Donovan always kicks a few and against Grenagh he came on and got two important ones towards the end. That maybe wasn’t the case in 2010 and 2011 where we were hoping to beat teams by scoring 12 or 13 points and reduce their scoring but this year we seem to be scoring a small bit more.”
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