TEN years have passed since Skibbereen secondary school Mercy Heights captured the All-Ireland Post Primary Schools’ Senior C ladies football title.
On the day they defeated Roscommon opponents Scoil Mhuire, Strokestown, in the decider played in Croagh, Co Limerick.
The Mercy Heights team emerged victorious by three points following a pulsatingfinal played before a large crowd.
Team captain Kate Coombes recalls their triumph with great pride.
“It was a huge honour,” said the captain fantastic. “My Leaving Certificate took a back seat that year.
“Winning a Munster final was our main focus at the start of the season. The prospect of winning an All-Ireland title hadn’t so much as crossed our minds.
“To win them both was special. That cup travelled all over Skibbereen and the neighbouring parishes.
“We made the most of it. We’re still milking it 10 years later!”
The Mercy Heights football team possessed a plethora of heroines in their panel throughout their voyage to All-Ireland glory.
Star full-forward Mairead O’Driscoll produced a brilliant performance in the final. She notched 4-4 following a sublime display.
The Castlehaven player was thrilled to play her part in their win.
“It was a dream come true to win a senior schools football All-Ireland. Mercy Heights were well known for winning basketball All-Irelands, so it was great to win the All-Ireland Football Championship.
“With the secondary schools in Skibbereen town having amalgamated since our win, it’s something only a small few of us can say we won.”
O’Driscoll is full of praise for the leadership role Kate Coombes and her fellow colleagues in Sixth Year displayed throughout their successful season.
“Kate was a fantastic captain, both on and off the field. She got us moving when the game looked like it was beyond our grasp.
“We had great respect for all the senior players such as Rachel Looney, Aisling Kearney, Emma Stoutt, and Kayleigh McCarthy.
“They could have quit sports for their Leaving Cert year, but they were really dedicated. They were rewarded with an All-Ireland medal for their efforts.”
The Skibbereen secondary school team contained a number of players who had represented various Cork underage football teams with great distinction.
Kate maintains that their close friendships, combined with a number of top players, were key factors in their All-Ireland final victory.
“We trained hard. We did a lot of circuit training. We would even use our lunch breaks to do skills sessions. We were all friends off the pitch, and that set a precedent,” she says.
“We came from different clubs and parishes, but we were all playing for the same school.
“That, along with great coaching and some hugely talented players, were big factors.
“Mairéad O’Driscoll was a goal merchant. She just loved scoring goals. She was ruthless.
“We had probably lacked that clinical edge in previous years. Melissa O’Driscoll from Drimoleague was similar.
“The O’Sullivans from Castlehaven were just a pure hindrance and very few teams could cope with Gráinne.”
The Mercy Heights and Scoil Mhuire teams played out an enthralling All-Ireland final, which ended with the Skibbereen school emerging triumphant on a final scoreline of 6-11 to 4-14.
Mairead has since met a few of her Strokestown opponents since their epic final clash 10 years ago.
“Both teams had great support on the day. I became friends with their wing-back when I went to UCD and I met the girl that marked me in the final in Dubai two years ago.”
Cork U20 football coach Maurice Moore and Diarmuid O Donnabhain guided the talented team to success.
Kate is full of praise for their trainers’ dedication.
“Maurice was our coach. We were very fortunate to have him involved.
“He was part of a very successful Carbery Rangers side. He had high standards. Diarmuid was the assistant coach.
“He made the long bus journeys to matches seem shorter. Another teacher, Greta Burchill, who was a former Cork goalkeeper, used to also help out.
“She would assist Rachel Looney with kick-outs and go through different drills with her before the bigger games.”
Following their great win, Mairead, along with Gillian Coombes and Niamh O’Sullivan, immediately travelled to Dublin to play in an All-Ireland club basketball weekend, the ace forward recalls.
“Half of the panel were probably combining football and basketball. We were super fit and that played a big part on All-Ireland final day, as it was so hot,” she says. “The All-Ireland final clashed with the All-Ireland club basketball weekend. Following the game, the three of us got a train from Mallow to Dublin where we played in a third-place final.”
Great sporting genes evidently run in the Coombes family. Kate’s brother Liam and her first cousin Gavin are making great progress with the Munster senior rugby team.
“I’m very proud of them,” says Kate.
“We grew up in a diehard Munster household, so it is surreal to see them in the jersey.
“Neither of them, however, have an All-Ireland Senior Schools C football medal, which I remind them of daily.”
Goalscoring hero Mairead recently returned home from travelling following the Covid-19 outbreak.
She is looking forward to playing club football with her beloved Castlehaven later this year.
“I am very happy to be home safe and sound. I did three months in New Zealand and Australia. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to run out in the Haven jersey sometime this year.”