IN 2014, the Cork ladies footballers found themselves in familiar territory, Croke Park on All-Ireland final day.
Famous names permeated throughout the team, Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley, Geraldine O’Flynn, superstars; masters of the game. But with 15 minutes to go, the writing was on the wall for the all-conquering Cork ladies. The Brendan Martin was slipping from their grasp, Dublin had a ten point lead and one hand firmly on the title.
A youngster by the name of Eimear Scally eagerly sprung from the bench, and as the now famous tale goes, announced herself on ladies football’s biggest stage in true Scally style; Scally had been informed she was to go in at wing-forward and to send Nollaig Cleary into the corner.
But, she knew what she could do and asked management to put her in the corner. 'I'll get a goal if ye put me in there,' she said.
The livewire corner-forward from ÉireÓOg ladies football club delivered, helping her teammates do the impossible.
That day was a sign of things to come for Scally, on the surface she had it all; the confidence, the skill, the pace, but perhaps something was missing.
A small, light and inexperienced corner-forward at the time, Scally needed the time to develop, something she now appreciates was a necessary evil.
“Obviously I was always gunning to come on earlier in games and if I wasn’t first forward coming on, I’d almost be thick but in a good, competitive way.
“Any time you are playing, you want to be starting, but I would always say to this day, that I was incredibly lucky to come onto that great Cork panel and team and actually get game time. I was much smaller and less experienced back then.”
It wasn’t until 2017 that Scally eventually nailed down a starting berth with the Cork senior ladies footballers and in 2018, she is worth far more than a cameo appearance, she has developed into one of Cork’s marquee forwards, a leader.
Scally is quick to attribute her evolution to the players around her in not only the Cork scene but also colleges. A former UCC student, Scally transferred to the University of Limerick in 2016, a decision she feels brought her game to the next level.
“It was good to learn by literally watching players, the likes of Val (Mulcahy), Nollaig Cleary, Briege (Corkery) and Rena (Buckley), and girls like that.
“I think the experience of college football has definitely helped me as well, playing with different girls from around the country, you’re getting insights into how they train. I think my work rate in the forward line has improved and I would genuinely put a lot of that down to Anna Galvin. When I saw the way she worked in the forward line in UL, the way she demanded things as a forward that had a big influence on me.”
Positive influences aren’t something the Ovens native ever had to look far afield for.
Her older sister’s Aoife and Elaine, both donned the red and white of Cork, inspiring Eimear to pursue a ladies football dream of her own. Her mother Mary stems from a strong footballing territory in Clonakilty, while her father Tom is from Killbeggan in Westmeath, where they live for football.
“My family have always been so involved. Dad is really proud and buzzing for the game, we are always talking about it.
"A lot of my family around Clonakilty and my grandad would be immensely proud of me, and my cousins, uncles and aunts from around the Midlands, always come out to support me, so I want to do it for them on Sunday as well.”
A relaxed individual by nature, Scally takes things in her stride and an impending All-Ireland championship final is no different. Excitement radiates off her at the prospect of pitting herself against the reigning All-Ireland champions, she is clearly enjoying her football and admits motivation isn’t hard to come by for her or her teammates.
A lacklustre championship campaign in 2017 saw many write off this young Cork side and Scally feels a win on Sunday, would finally silence the critics.
“After having such a disappointing year last year, people completely wrote us off at the start of the year, if we won it, we would get to really prove ourselves. People might say to us ‘you are without the older girls’ and obviously we miss them, but they all had to leave at some stage and this team is more than capable of winning.
"So it would really mean a lot from that point of view, to prove something to a lot of outsiders.”
Scally is under no illusions as to the mammoth task that awaits the Cork camp tomorrow but you get the sense that they are relishing the challenge.
“They are reigning All Ireland champions, they are hammering every team they are playing. They have to be favourites. I think they have a really good brand of football and they are really well disciplined. But I do think we have a very good team and if its close game in the end, we will really have to go for broke and I think we have the players to step up to the mark.”
A start tomorrow will truly mark the coming of age of not only Scally, but this young Rebel side who against the odds, are on the verge of reaching the pinnacle yet again.