RÓNÁN COLLINS’ second pre-season in charge of Cork City’s women is almost at an end.
This time last year, the manager and his backroom staff were preparing for a transitional period that would see the club incorporate a lot of inexperienced talent.
But this time around, he has slightly changed his approach as they look to compete closer to the top of the division.
“It’s a long off-season, it’s about 20 to 22 weeks, so what we decided to dodifferent this year compared to last is that we kept training until November and we did a tour to Malta as well because that break is too long,” said Collins.
“Pre-season this year we got some good games in. We played against three other national league teams and we played against some local boys teams as well.
“The big thing you’re looking to do is to get players playing and get some minutes into their feet ahead of the season.
“But seven or eight of our squad are in college, so they are in the middle of that season as well. They have matches and training at the moment, so with them you are trying to watch their load.
“We have some players coming up from the U17s, so the intensity is going to be a bit higher than what they’re used to and we have some seasoned pros still that will be well used to it all.
“The key thing with pre-season is that it is different for everyone, but it has been going really well.”
The players were given a few weeks off to enjoy the Christmas period but they were also given specific gym programmes to keep them sharp.
They eased their way back into training with games of astroturf and futsal in the new year before the real work began in February, six weeks prior to the new campaign.
There was also changes to personnel during that time as City signed Becky Cassin from Wexford Youths, Carys Johnson from Limerick, and most recently, Canadian-born Meghan Bourque has rejoined.
The trio will add a wealth of experience to last year’s youthful side, which Collins believes could be crucial.
“We are actually younger this year,” he confirmed.
“The average age of the squad last year was 20½ and this year it is down to 19½.
“Last year we had 60 seasons of experience in the squad, but this year we will have 70 — so we are younger, but we are more experienced.
“They were three really good signings, three experienced players in the league itself but they are also very good characters to have around the place.
“They are three huge additions to the squad, and we still have the benefits of our really good academy set-up, where there’s been some great work done.
“Our academy girls are probably brought closer to the level needed than most other League of Ireland clubs because of the quantity of work that they do and the quantity of training that they do.
“We have a really positive relationship with our underage section and we know those girls really well, so there is going to be another group of U17s that come up and sign senior this year.
“We find that the decisions we have had to make this year in terms of squad have been more difficult than other years because the quality of the players has definitely come up and improved.
“Young girls in Cork now are doing so well, they are training so often, they are getting that load earlier, that experience, and it’s really starting to show, they are setting the bar.”
And with all that good work taking place off the pitch, Collins admitted they will now need to set more ambitious targets on it.
“Every game and every season you are going in to do as best as you can and to grow as a team,” he added.
“The big thing we look at is — what is winning? Winning is being better today than you were yesterday, that’s our mantra and that’s what we look to do.
“We were doing fitness test scores in training recently and they were up again from when we last tested them at the end of last season.
“It’s another positive indicator on the work the girls are putting in and how they are developing.
“Our key performance indicators are higher. We set marks as unacceptable, acceptable, and excellence.
“What used to be excellence for us now is acceptable, so our excellence now is a higher standard and we want to keep moving those bars higher and higher.”
How far Cork City have progressed as a football club will be revealed over the course of the next eight months or so. But their first real test will be this Sunday afternoon in Bishopstown when they take on champions Peamount United, who are now armed with Republic of Ireland stalwart Stephanie Roche.
“It’s good to get them at home, you always want to start the season at home and hopefully get a good crowd out,” said Collins.
“They have brought in a lot of very good players, but they can only play 11 of them.
“Last year we played really well in our first game, we were really ready for them and we were unlucky not to get something from the game.
“It would be great to do that again this year but they have brought in a lot of quality, they have a really strong squad so it’s going to give us a really good indicator of where we are at this year.
“We have done well against Peamount so we are confident we can get something from the game.”