THE Cork Schoolgirls League wrapped up a very successful two weekends of cup finals where there was fantastic excitement.
It was great to see so many kids get the opportunity to play in Turner’s Cross with the tears and excitement all part of what it means.
These are the stars of the future and if these stars ever want role models to copy, they need look no further than two of their own.
Cork’s Megan Connolly and Denise O’Sullivan both starred for Ireland in a 3-2 victory against Ukraine during the week and are now top of group one after two wins out of two, trying to qualify for the European Championships for the first time.
They are the perfect role models. Connolly, a former College Corinthians star, is now playing for Brighton after four years in America. She is a fantastic footballer and looks the perfect athlete.
More importantly, she’s from a lovely family who always gave her huge support. Her parents Mick and Freda are always cheering her on and Megan, whose brother Luke is a Cork footballer, always plays with a bit of personality.
Despite being focused on the game, worried about the game having to win and play well, she still recognised the importance of youngsters. During the National Anthem, she took off her tracksuit top to give to one of the mascots who was feeling the cold.
It might be a small gesture to some people but it just goes to show the class of Megan.
Denise is the same. From Knockneheeney in Cork she has never forgotten her family who always seem to be so important to her. They support her at all her home International games and she always has one of the O’Sullivan kids leading out the team with her.
Denise starred on the North Carolina Courage team who finished as this year’s winners of the NWSL Shield and runners-up in the International Champions Cup.
She is one of the best players in the world at the moment if you consider she was their MVP, even though four of her teammates were part of the USA World Cup-winning team: Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Jessica McDonald and Samantha Mewis.
It’s remarkable as O'Sullivan was the MVP for the second year running. She has started 22 of 23 games this season.
She has been part of the Republic of Ireland women's national football team since 2011 and has made massive strides over the years.
Megan has similarly enjoyed a lot of success since her teens. In 2015 she began playing in Florida after obtaining a four-year scholarship to Florida State University to study sports management.
She played a pivotal role in their 2015 ACC Women's Soccer Tournament success, contributing nine goals and 10 assists. She subsequently received a number of individual awards including ACC Midfielder of the Year and ACC Freshman of the Year.
Megan was named a First Team All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America for her performances during the season, becoming the first freshman player from Florida State to do so. She was also nominated for the Hermann Trophy.
She has represented the Republic of Ireland at U15, U16, U17, U19 and senior level making her senior international debut for the Republic of Ireland in a friendly against the United States in 2016. Most recently this week she was part of the winning side who beat Ukraine to top group one in the qualifying stages of the European championships.
Cork FAI Development officer and former International coach Dave Bell had huge praise for the girls.
“Both Denise and Megan are true professionals who have shown massive commitment from an early age,” said Bell. "Both girls came through the ranks at underage level and were always great people as well as players.
“I’m not surprised at the level they are now playing at because from an early age both girls showed huge potential and have proven that over the years both on and off the pitch.
“Yes, indeed they are great role models for all the young girls in this country, and especially the Cork kids.
“At the moment myself, Barbara O’Connell and Chelsea Noonan are running the FAI Emerging Talent in Cork and there is some incredible talent there in which I have no doubt a lot of them will follow in the footsteps of Megan and Denise.
"This is where it all started for them. Playing with their local club and being recognised at inter-county level brought them where they are today through hard work, determination and desire.”
Wilton’s Laura Shine and Cork City’s Olivia Gibson represented Cork at Ireland U16 level. Other players such as Wilton’s Alix Mendez, Mia O’Connell, Lakewood’s Heidi O’Sullivan and Carrigaline’s Eva Mangan all have been at recent trials.
The young girls of today have fantastic opportunities to showcase their ability as players through the various representative tournaments, so let’s hope the CWSSL can produce more players and role models like Denise and Megan.