“THAT was our long-deserved present for the year and it came just two days before Christmas,” reflected Sarah Healy on the final day of 2020.
A turbulent season that started almost a year ago to the day endured postponements, restructuring, and then cancellation before somehow ending perfectly for the Cork City women’s U17 side as they claimed the league title for the first time.
“We started training in January, we did some futsal but also gym sessions, we made our signings in February expecting the season to then start in April like it normally would,” adds the manager.
“We went into lockdown then so that didn’t happen but the girls were doing their individual training programmes at home - running 5km, doing workouts, football workouts, and one vs ones with their parents which they were delighted with,” Healy laughs.
“The season started in August, we had five games up until October so we thought the league was good to go albeit with a shorter season but then we went into another lockdown.
“We continued to train in our contact pods of 15 hoping the season would come back but then it was officially cancelled.
“We were devastated. The amount of work we had done up until that point for the whole year, we always stayed positive, we always remained hopeful that we would have more matches, that we would have a league, it was devastating to get that news."
City recorded four wins and one draw in their five games of the Women’s National League Phase One.
But just as it seemed that they wouldn’t get the chance to claim the silverware that they were confident they could land, the club received an email four days after the season was abruptly ended stating that Phase Two and a league playoff final would go ahead after all.
“It was a bit of a shock, it was a bit emotional,” said Healy, “We were still ready for it, we still wanted to go back and play matches but it was tough to switch back on.
“We only had one training session before each of our four games so we just didn’t have a lot of time to fit everything in but the players worked at home to get ready for those games.
“The players really switched on well, they really wanted this, they knew this is what we had been working hard for.”
After suffering heartbreak in both the league and cup semi-finals in 2019, City defeated Peamount United and Wexford Youths - the clubs that beat them in those last four clashes - to set up a final showdown against Shamrock Rovers. Following facing four tough games in just 10 days, goals from Olivia Gibson and Laura Shine helped the Leesiders lift the title on Christmas Eve-Eve.
“It was a fantastic feeling at full time, those are the moments you live for in football or even in life in general,” beamed Healy. “We knew Shamrock Rovers would give us a really tough game, we knew they would be really well organised so we were delighted with the win.
“The first-half performance was really good, the second half we tried to hold the game and the game management of the players was really good.”
The dust from the prolonged 2020 campaign may have only just settled but Healy has already set her targets for 2021.
“We want to keep that title in Cork, we want to retain it and just keep building players for the seniors,” she insisted.
And Healy is also hopeful the FAI will press ahead with plans to introduce an U19 Women’s National League which will help clubs like Cork City to continue the good work they have done.
“We will now lose about half the squad again for next year, they will hopefully move on into a new U19 league. There are talks about that at the moment, and it would be great for them if it was introduced.
“It is a step in the right direction, it’s where we need to go to keep players playing at an elite level.
“For the players to have two more seasons where they could play at their age group will be a huge benefit and it would bridge that gap from U17s to seniors, it would make that step up easier."