Successful divisional campaign for Ilen Rovers U21 footballers

Posted on: 7th June, 2018

Category: Sports Life – Interviews

Contributor: John Bohane

Ilen Rovers U21 footballers captured the divisional A football championship title for the third time in their history recently after they defeated Carbery Rangers by six points following an entertaining final decider played in Moneyvolihane. Ilen Rovers were captained during their successful divisional campaign by their star full forward Stephen Leonard who played a key role throughout their season. John Bohane catches up with the ace attacker who was lavish in his praise for the role his team mates and mentors played in their fairytale season thus far.

Stephen cemented his reputation as one of the brightest and most promising players in the county with a plethora of stunning displays, which propelled his beloved Ilen Rovers to U21 A divisional football glory in this, his last season playing with the Rovers U21 team. Stephen was also a key player on the Ilen team who last captured the Liam Farr Cup in 2016. “It was a super win. It was a great day for everyone associated with the club. It was a great feeling to win the championship title. This is my final year playing at U21 level, so it was sweet winning it this year. I definitely have good memories of the grade especially the two finals we won. It was great to enjoy success with two very strong teams.”

Ilen Rovers had to overcome very strong and resolute opponents in Carbery Rangers who started the second half in determined fashion, as they recorded four successive points, which moved them three points ahead. Ilen Rovers displayed their character however, as they netted a brace of goals in a minute, which restored their lead, a lead they subsequently never relinquished for the remainder of the game. Stephen himself netted the second Ilen Rovers goal in spectacular fashion. The star forward unleashed a stunning drive into the Rangers net following a typically marauding solo run. “The game was slipping away from us and I feel the goals went in just when we needed them. They were decisive moments as the game looked like it was going Carbery Rangers’ way. Ross could have scored a goal or two in the first half as well, but our backs managed to keep us in the game until half time.”

The modest star is reluctant to truly appreciate the sublime nature of his goal which moved his three points ahead at a critical juncture in the game. He is grateful to his fellow attacker Aaron O’Sullivan for his incisive pass. “It all happened so fast. The goals were vital and we managed to pull through in the final quarter. Aaron did great for my goal. He won a great ball in the corner which had almost gone out of play. He gave me a very sweet pass which made scoring a lot easier.”

Carbery Rangers fielded a very young side with the vast majority of their team eligible to compete in the U21 football championship next season. Stephen was fulsome in his praise for their display in the final. “They put up a great battle. They have a very good team. They really put it up to us and the game could have gone either way. It was a serious battle on the day and I’m sure they will be back in a similar position next year, as they will only be missing a few players from that team.”

Stephen and his colleagues achieved their main goal for this season, capturing divisional championship glory. Stephen is delighted their supporters were rewarded for their encouragement and support all season. “Our aim this year was to win the West Cork title. It is a great honour to captain any Ilen Rovers team, but to lead us to championship success was a great feeling. I was very proud of all the lads for their great performance on the day. It was a great win especially for our supporters who have been great all season. Their support throughout the season was a great boost to us.”

The ace forward feels a united effort from all the players and their coaches proved a key factor in their triumph and ultimately propelled the Rovers to divisional championship glory. “We had great backs, trainers and we enjoyed a bit of luck along the way. We knew we were capable of giving the West Cork championship a good rattle this year after winning it two years ago. We had a poor season last year, so we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We had a great spirit in our panel, plenty of football ability and thankfully we got over the line.”

The Ilen Rovers U21 team were coached this season by Brendan Duggan, Sean Casey and Gavin Barry, three players who have enjoyed distinguished careers with their beloved club. Stephen is indebted to the coaches for their coaching prowess. “The lads have been involved now for several years and we are delighted they’ve stayed with us. It can be tough work putting up with a lot of the lads at times myself included, but Brendan, Sean and Gavin know how to keep us entertained and they know a thing or two about football as well.”

Stephen is hoping the success Ilen Rovers are currently enjoying at underage level will transfer to the adult grades in the foreseeable future. The Ilen Rovers senior footballers succumbed to a first round defeat against Ballincollig this season. Stephen is confident however, the future is bright for Ilen Rovers. “We lost a good few senior players from last year so it was never going to be easy against Ballincollig who are an excellent team. The experience of the U21 campaign will bring the younger players along and we are confident we can do better in the next round. I am confident of a bright future ahead for the club. They are enjoying great success at underage level and I’m sure in the years to come they will be winning West Cork championship titles and county titles if they keep working hard.”



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