Rangers recovery could be capped by Mid Kerry crown
Mid Kerry SFC Final: Laune Rangers v Miltown/Castlemaine, Sunday December 1, Glenbeigh at 2pm
There is something special potentially brewing out in Killorglin once more.
Following several years in the footballing doldrums, 1996 All-Ireland senior club champions, Laune Rangers, are showing signs of life as a rejuvenated young team prepare to do battle with great rivals, Milltown / Castlemaine, in Sunday's Mid Kerry SFC Final at Fr Kelly Memorial Park in Glenbeigh (2pm).
Two weeks ago, Timmy Fleming's charges stunned the current All-Ireland junior kingpins, Beaufort, in the divisional semi-final by six points (2-15 to 1-12) and they carried on that form last Sunday by securing their promotion to Division 3 of the County League by winning their promotion play-off against Finuge (1-9 to 1-4).
All in all, two great results that leave Laune Rangers on the crest of a wave, as club PRO Aidan Clifford readily admitted.
"Of course, we are delighted. If you put down at the start of the year what we wanted, it would have been to survive in the intermediate championship, get promoted in the County League and try and reach the Mid Kerry final. We ticked all those boxes in the end," he said.
"We certainly went about it in a roundabout way though, a relegation play-off with Desmonds in the intermediate and a promotion play-off with Finuge, but we got there in the end.
"Conditions were poor on Sunday against Finuge. There had been another deluge of rain and the underfoot surface was bad. But we went in at half time a point up against the elements so we knew we had a good chance then.
"In the third quarter, we kicked eight points in a row and that was crucial. There were eight Under 20s in the team, including three minors, and that sums up where we are at the moment," added Clifford.
With such a young outfit, Laune Rangers could have done without key players picking up long-term injuries, but that is something they have had to grin and bear, as they ended up without five of their regulars in the semi-final with Beaufort, including, of course, county star Peter Crowley, who suffered a season-ending cruciate knee ligament problem in that play-off with Desmonds.
"Peter has been involved in the squad all the time. I don't think he will make the National League with Kerry but, being realistic, we would hope to have him back for the club championship in April.
"As well as that, our full-back Conor Murphy is out with a dislocated shoulder, Jonathan Carey is just coming back and Shane Daly. Daire Cleary is out injured and touch and go for Sunday. Patrick Daly togged out against Finuge and kicked around in the warm-up, so he might be back. We have been missing players in the spine of the team."
Amazingly, it's been 13 years since Laune Rangers enjoyed divisional joy, and that is something they want to put right on Sunday.
"I have been PRO for six years and last year was my first time we were even in the Mid Kerry final. We were beaten in the first round most years recently. No coincidence that we had no Kerry minor for eight or nine years there, but the work being done now at underage level is starting to bear fruit. We have a young team, who are very hungry, especially to be playing our old rivals. Everybody is excited."
Milltown/Castlemaine are in a similar position to Sunday's opponents, having also put an emphasis on youth, and having retained their Division 3 status, they will be crossing swords at county league level in 2020. Paul Fitzmaurice's team are also entering the final off the back of an unexpected semi-final victory, theirs over Glenbeigh / Glencar (0-11 to 0-9).
"It had been a long time since we beat Glenbeigh, especially away from home," said club chairman Podge Leane.
"They handed out a bit of a drubbing to us last year, it wasn't pretty. But we have made strides this year and it's started to come together for us. This is the big one of the year for us now. It's 2014 since we last won the Mid Kerry. We're a young team, a lot of them wouldn't have played in a Mid Kerry final before. Everything's good to go."
Milltown / Castlemaine also have their injury problems, with experienced attacker Donal Kelliher out of action with a broken collarbone and Gavin Horan unavailable as he is on work experience in Portugal. Leane is fully aware of the belief in the Laune Rangers camp after recent victories.
"They were very impressive against Beaufort and they had a great win v Finuge to go up. They have the momentum at the moment and will go into the game as definite favourites. Like us, they are a young team, building, their confidence is high. Having a good, competitive game against Finuge is a big asset to them. But we will have a right go at this," added Leane.
This has the makings of a fascinating contest between two evenly-matched youthful sides ravenous for success. It is a hard match to call.
Despite Jonathan O'Sullivan's accuracy for Milltown / Castlemaine, the extra attacking invention of Fiachra Clifford, Kieran Doona and Roan Moriarty might just edge it for Laune Rangers.
Verdict: Laune Rangers.