THE final Women’s National League table doesn’t make for great reading from a Cork City point of view.
City’s season finally drew to a close on November 10 – a couple of weeks later than originally planned – with a spirited 1-1 draw against the FAI Cup winners Wexford Youths.
The result confirmed the club’s fifth-place finish – out of eight teams – as seven wins, three draws and 11 losses after 21 games saw them end the campaign with 24 points to equal the club record.
That position was mathematically confirmed sometime before that last fixture. as they had been marooned in mid-table with fourth-placed Galway Women’s ending with 37 points and sixth-placed DLR Waves finishing with 16 points.
That seems to add to the narrative that their season just petered out while it has also been claimed in some quarters that it was a complete failure. It wasn’t.
In fact City, strangely enough, finished with the exact same record as the 2018 Só Hotels Women’s National League season while they also scored a record number of goals with 39.
Last year seven wins, three draws and 11 losses after 21 games was enough to see them end on 24 points to seal fifth position in the standings. That’s actually quite incredible consistency rather than regression.
There’s a cliché in football which states that the league table doesn’t lie but it often doesn’t tell the entire story of what happened over the course of the nine months or so either.
City women’s 2019 season saw them endure numerous injury crisis’s, suffer because of crazy scheduling from the league, lack of corporation from other clubs and some truly disgraceful refereeing decisions.
What makes winning the league title so special is that it is usually won by the team that handled such issues the best.
Every club is hindered by circumstances over the course of the year so it’s a test of how you react to them.
But some of the things that went against City were ridiculous.
Their opening game was away to Peamount United, the side that would go on to win the league and their second game was at home to Wexford Youths, the side that would go on to win the F.A.I Cup.
A tough welcome back and so it proved as they were beaten on both occasions.
But the Wexford game was particularly disappointing.
Éabha O’Mahony, Saoirse Noonan and Nathalie O’Brien were nominated for the 2018 ‘Three’ FAI International Awards - one of the most positive moments of the season – but they were required to travel to Dublin for the ceremony instead of playing against Youths.
Other players were also called up to the Republic of Ireland underage squads but despite requests made to the league and to Wexford to postpone the fixture, it went ahead and Cork lost 3-0.
“We have a squad of 24 and we had ten players out,” said manager Rónán Collins shortly after full time.
“We had three at an awards ceremony, we had three away on international duty, we had one doing exams and three out injured.
“We were put in the situation where we had to use players that were injured which is an issue but there doesn’t seem to be much care about that.
“We expect better. We felt a little let down coming into this fixture, we felt let down by Wexford Youths.
“This game could have been played on Friday, Saturday or Monday but Youths refused to move it knowing that we had players at awards ceremonies and away with internationals on Sunday.
“We asked for permission for players that were away with the Internationals to be released but we were denied however Wexford Youths were allowed permission for that.” Collin’s troops reacted well to that setback and they recorded three wins on the bounce away to Kilkenny, DLR Waves and Limerick to get back on the right track.
One of the excellent Christina Dring’s ten league goals – she finished as top scorer - settled the Munster Derby but the match was marred as the talented Lauren Egbuloniu sustained a serious injury that saw her ruled out for the rest of the year.
Another plus came in April as Katie McCarthy was named the league’s Player of the Month not long after she made her 100th appearance for Cork City. The landmark came in between Maggie Duncliffe and Ciara McNamara also joining Nathalie O’Brien in the 100 club.
On the pitch, they would lose their next four in a row before they travelled to Wexford at the end of May.
They looked to have scored a morale-boosting equaliser in the last minute but the referee had other ideas.
“Christina Dring spun the centre back about 30 yards from goal, ran through and struck the ball. The ’keeper dived, the ball was going past her and the referee brought it back for a foul five seconds earlier.
“The girls put in a really good performance and they were let down in the end, they were let down in a big way,” said Collins, and there is video evidence to back it up.
It is one of the worst decisions you are ever likely to see and it deprived a young, spirited City squad a much-needed point.
They won back to back games in July with the help of the clinical Saoirse Noonan – who missed a lot of matches this season – and after breezing past Wilton United in the FAI Cup in August, they were narrowly beaten by Shelbourne in September after an enthralling clash.
City ended the league with two wins, two draws and two defeats with absences again taking their toll while some of the brilliant under 17 side earned promotion to the first team so it wasn’t all bad.
They may not have achieved what they initially set out to but there are many reasons why it became difficult to do so.
But there is no doubt that City’s young squad will be better next season following their experiences in 2019.
Some of the things that went against City were ridiculous.