A trio of young Bantry Bay Rovers players getting an opportunity with Cork City FC Women’s Academy represents a timely boost for schoolgirls football in the West Cork region.
Rovers’ Rebecca Keane, Sophie O’Sullivan and Fran Houlihan began training with the Cork City Women’s FC underage academy last week. The trio’s progression was a timely reminder of the increased number of talented female footballers emerging from the rural region in recent times.
“These girls have been involved with the Bantry Bay Rovers academy from an early age,” Bantry Bay Rovers Chairperson Donal McGrath told the Echo.
“All three have also been actively participating in the West Cork Schoolboys League, representing our club, over the past number of seasons. They have emerged through our girls system and advanced on, as high potential players, to playing regular, competitive football in West Cork’s schoolboys setup.
“Cork City got in touch with us a while back as they were anxious to widen their net for recruiting new players to their academy. They wanted to have a look at what footballing talent was available in West Cork. One of the advantages girls playing for Bantry Bay Rovers have is that they have been getting regular league football from a young age.
“We recommended that three of our girls apply to Cork City’s Academy. They were absolutely delighted when word filtered through that they had been invited up to Cork. Sophie, Rebecca and Fran will travel to Cork’s academy over the next ten weeks for further coaching, benefitting from City’s coaches, strength and conditioning department.”
14-year-old Sophie O’Sullivan is delighted to have received an opportunity to train at Cork City’s academy but equally thankful for the grounding received during her formative years in Kealkill.
“I have been playing with Bay Rovers for about four years now at this stage,” O’Sullivan commented.
“I started out playing with the boys teams. It has been a great experience playing soccer for Bay Rovers because training with the boys was a different level to the girls.
"It is much harder playing against boys and a way more competitive. It is still great craic though. Playing against the boys has definitely made me a better player because you must be strong and if you want to compete against them. I prefer playing on an all-girls team though.”
13-year-old Scoil Mhuire in Ballingeary student Fran Houlihan echoed her team mate’s endorsement of Bay Rovers and reiterated how the West Cork club helped develop her game.
“It is two or three years since I started playing soccer for Bay Rovers. The best thing about being part of the club is that the coaches are always supportive, and it is really good to get to play on the same team as my friends.” Colaiste Pobail Bheanntrai student Rebecca Keane is the third Rovers player to make it to City’s academy after making her mark with her local secondary local.
“I play for Bay Rovers and go to school in Colaiste Pobail Bheanntrai,” Keane added.
“Sophie (O’Sullivan) and I helped start up a girls soccer team in the school for the first time this year. We trained every Friday and played a couple of matches before we had to stop because of Covid-19.”
So, there is much to look forward to for three young Bay Rovers players over the next ten weeks along with girls from all over the county. The positive experience gained from their first academy session suggests the coming months will be hugely beneficial.
“There was excitement but also nerves when I got the call from Cork City,” Rebecca Keane said.
“I thought that the other girls might be a way better than me. That was not the case though because a lot of the girls I trained with were on the same level as myself. There were a lot of really good players up there but I it was good to train with a different group.
“We were so happy and just delighted when we found out we were going up to Cork City’s academy,” Sophie O’Sullivan added.
“I was over the moon and screaming and everything! Leading up to the first day, I was nervous in the car as it was all a bit nerve-racking. It was fine as soon as I stepped out on the pitch though.
“There were lots of other girls from different clubs involved. The City coaches had us playing mini-matches too. It was really good, and everyone enjoyed the session. The best moment was when I scored a goal. I love playing as striker and am a massive Real Madrid fan. I support Cork City too and have been up to support them.”
“I was really happy when I heard I would be going up to Cork City,” Fran Houlihan said.
“It is a fantastic opportunity to improve my skills and to get the chance to train with lots of other girls. It’s mostly boys we have been training and playing against up until now. The first training session was really good. Meeting up with loads of other girls and training with the Cork City coaches was a good experience.
“More than anything, I am looking forward to improving my skills and just learning how to play better over the next ten weeks. It is exciting and should be a lot of fun as well. The three of us (Bay Rovers players) don’t really get too much of an opportunity to talk as we are in different groups during training, but it is nice to have them (Sophie and Rebecca) there.”