Brilliant picture captured joy of county final glory even in strange times

Brilliant picture captured joy of county final glory even in strange times

Aine Terry O'Sullivan, West Cork Captain, greets family member who were outside the wire for the game due to Covid restrictions. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

THE pictures told their own story.

Aine Terry O’Sullivan celebrating on the field with her family locked outside the fence could only be GAA 2020.

Libby Coppinger’s clenched fists and emotion hinted at the more traditional timeless GAA – heartache and near misses and then eventually that holy grail.

West Cork ladies won a remarkable ladies senior county title last weekend, finally managing to overcome Mourneabbey when it mattered, finishing off a story that began with their first game as a team back in 2016 but really has its origins much before that.

This win hasn’t happened by itself.

The final performance had pretty much everything you need as well for the happy ending. The gut check?

Try spending the entire build-up and season really talking about how important it is to make a good start in games and to not let the disaster of last year’s county final happen again against this dominant Mourneabbey (they conceded four goals in the first twenty or so minutes that day), then get ripped apart for 1-2 inside the first few plays, conjure up a great goal and then again concede another goal within another minute.

Still they didn’t collapse and worked their way back into things with belief and conviction and experience. The matchwinning hero?

Step forward Libby Coppinger, who’d been starring at full-forward, nabbing 2-0 and 1-4 in the last two games while still getting digs from her family about too many missed chances.

Here she was properly sensational, a real step up sort of performance against, let’s remember, the All-Ireland club champions.

Coppinger just looked sparky and at it from the beginning, always dangerous and capable of doing something to open the game up.

The first ball that went in long was a diagonal kick-pass - Coppinger herself had referenced this kick-passing as something West Cork had been looking to add to their game all year – that she leaped to grab and as soon as she landed she burst past her defender, opened a space to shoot and blasted to the net.

Her second goal was a neat finish from a narrow-angle with her left foot after a Melissa Duggan run, something Ephie Fitzgerald mentioned on commentary as a massive part of West Cork’s attacking play.

Her three points were all reasonably similar, passes (two of them kick-passes again) that found Coppinger in a position she was able to take on a defender and use that burst of pace and change of direction to create the opening for a shot.

On the third point she was one-v-three but still found the room to get her shot in off her left foot again. She had another goal shot saved.

The match-winning goal was half her creation, having enough spark in her legs while others looked jaded to take a ball on the run, sell a lovely dummy to create a gap to set Daire Kiely into; it was only that Kiely bettered the dummy with her own outrageous little turn to make the space to shoot to the net.

Coppinger was unplayable and kept finding a way to find big scores when the need was there. That match-winning goal was a worthy end to the first part of this trip.

There’s more to it as well. In some ways, it’s era-defining in a bigger picture way. Ladies club football here was dominated by Donoughmore for what seemed like forever, then clubs like Inch Rovers and Mourneabbey got their go at the top table.

 Bríd O'Sullivan, Mourneabbey, tries to block Eve Murphy, West Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Bríd O'Sullivan, Mourneabbey, tries to block Eve Murphy, West Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

It’s hard to imagine that as recently as 2014 Ciara O’Sullivan booked a holiday for October because club football was never really a thing at that time of year for them and this Mourneabbey group has been an inspiration for this West Cork side, pushing them toward the higher standards necessary, making them aware that sometimes the reward can be there at the end even when the big losses are piling up.

That’s how it should work, the top teams driving the quality and mentality needed to compete and win all the time.

Mourneabbey won’t be going away but there’s a feeling of a growing West Cork influence now, that the mix of interest and numbers in clubs lifting the level all the time has created this perfect storm of a rising.

Again, this is a pretty ideal development scenario in a region and one of those situations where the use of a divisional side had perfect timing. Think the Duhallow U21 hurlers for a similar story back in the 2000s.

More ambitious players get to play with the best players and the culture and skill levels and just awareness of what’s out there improves everyone.

Players with clubs who wouldn’t normally be exposed to that sort of standard get better just by being around that, from training and playing games at a higher speed and tempo and intensity.

It was fascinating to hear Jermaine Jenas talk on Match of the Day last weekend about how Everton’s players would have gotten a boost from seeing James Rodiguez in the dressing-room, the impact a level-above player can have even at that elite class, upping the belief and expectation.

It’s a regenerating cycle too. When Libby Coppinger was asked a few years ago who her GAA heroes were aged 10, she said Seán Óg and Alan O’Connor. Local ladies players at underage now can see something else, something closer, something that’s more relevant to them and what they can achieve.

Coppinger didn’t grow up dreaming of winning county titles with West Cork but there are plenty of girls out there now who can follow the trail.

That sort of legacy can drive short-term AND long-term dominance simply through numbers.

The great Cork ladies team that emerged in the mid-00s had little influence from the area but the current squad is full of players all the way from Beara to Valleys and signs are that the numbers will only grow. Someone else will come along in time because that’s the way it works.

For now, the West is on top.

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