CORK City were absolutely brilliant at the weekend.
They were up against one of the best sides in the country but they weren’t fazed by the task at hand.
They defended resolutely and they broke with pace to cause their talented opponents all sort of problems.
But in the end, it counted for little as a spirted City side were beaten by the smallest of margins thanks to a second-half header from close range.
No, this column isn’t about City’s defeat to Dundalk last Friday night, this column is about City’s defeat to Shelbourne in the quarter-final of the FAI Women’s Senior Cup last Sunday afternoon.
“I thought it was a great game for the crowd to watch,” said the victorious Shels manager Dave Bell. He was right. His side was more clinical on the day and they earned their place in the semi-finals of the Cup.
But they were made to work for it as Rónán Collins’ troops scored two brilliantly worked goals through Christina Dring and Republic of Ireland senior international Eabha O’Mahony to lead 2-1 at one point.
“They scored two good goals and they put us under pressure. We’re a bit like Cork because they have some very good young players as well,” added Bell, who knows all about the talent on Leeside as he works for the FAI’s emerging talent programme.
And that should be the main thing City take from this defeat. The 2017 winners were undoubtedly looking to repeat that triumph this season and even though that is no longer possible, the progress they have made in developing players – as seen in the game against Shels – should ensure they challenge for honours in the years to come.
“They have made loads of progress, they have done a good job here because they have some great young players and have more coming through,” insisted Bell.
But of course, that doesn’t mean the clubs should now rest on their laurels. The difference the U17 Women’s National League – which was formed last year – has made to the game has been significant.
City and Shelbourne had players in their matchday squads that are signed to play for both the seniors and the U17s.
But there is a concern from the Dublin club about losing footballers who may soon fall into the category of being too old to represent the 17’s and maybe not quite good enough yet to feature for the seniors.
“I think women’s football as a whole is improving but I think from my point of view when we see these young players come through – especially Cork have a good young U17s team this year – some of them may not get in the first team next year and then there is nowhere for them to go,” said Bell, who also previously managed the Ireland U17s.
“I would like the U17s to become the U18s next year and then U18s become the U19s so we can develop the players a little bit better.
“Hopefully then they can mature enough to be in the team on a regular basis. That’s only my idea but I would like something like that to happen because I think we will lose a few players otherwise.
“We have lost a few at Shelbourne this year, good young players who were under 17 last year but they couldn’t get in the first team so they have had to go somewhere else because there was nowhere for them to play.”
With Cork having only one team in the Women’s National League, losing players to rivals isn’t too much of an issue for them.
It is why they would rather an U15 league introduced instead of an U19s, although both would be ideal if not fanciful at the moment.
“The best development for Women’s Football is to get them in younger,” said City boss Rónán Collins.
“At the moment we train three nights a week on the pitch and one in the gym for seniors and the U17s, a lot of local club players will only be training once a week, twice at most.
“The quicker you can get players training to that level, seeing those standards and playing against that quality of player the better it is going to be for their development.
“From a league perspective, we are ranked 31st in Europe but our coefficient should be much higher than that.
“The reason for that is players aren’t playing early enough or often enough. As a club we would be pushing more for an U15 league, it would be far better for the development of players to achieve excellence it would push standards way higher.
“If we really want to push on women’s football in Ireland that’s what we need to be doing, getting players in younger.
“Ireland’s underage women’s teams are already doing really well but imagine what they could do if we started to get them in younger.”
The overlying message from both managers is that a lot has been done to improve the Women’s game in this country but there is still plenty more to do.
The disappointing aspect is that these are purely suggestions at this stage and neither Bell nor Collins see these leagues being introduced in the near future.
But clubs have held meetings with the association about how they can improve the game even further so hopefully, an agreement can eventually be reached.
Then we will be able to see more brilliant performances like the one last weekend.