AS pre-season draws to a close and with the real action set to commence tomorrow, Cork City Women’s manager Rónán Collins acknowledges the privileged position his club is in.
“We are very lucky that we got to train and play,” he tells The Echo. “We can only be happy with pre-season. It is something we don’t want to take for granted.
“To be able to have that bit of normality, I think we are really in a privileged position and the girls have made the most of that.
“They have really trained hard, the vast majority of them are quite young and they have taken a lot of responsibility which has helped them really come on as players in that time.
“It has left us very focused on football which is a good thing, so we are looking forward to the start of the season now.”
All things considered, this pre-season campaign has been a lot smoother than it was last year for City.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Women’s National League faced a couple of delays throughout 2020 which meant the players had to undergo three separate pre-seasons before the competitive football finally got underway.
The Leesiders, to their credit, rallied to secure a top-four finish and reach the FAI Cup final with numerous young players coming of age but the off-season has seen the squad experience some changes.
Goalkeeper and captain Maria O’Sullivan has left for college in America, leaving Leah Hayes Coen and Abby McCarthy to battle it out for the number one shirt.
And while Sarah McKevitt has joined the attacking ranks with Saoirse Noonan departing for Shelbourne, a number of the club’s U17 title-winning side will also be given a chance to impress at senior level.
“What we have is what we have and we are very happy with it,” adds Collins.
“Sarah has come in as an experienced player for us, she is definitely a very talented player, good work ethic about her, very mobile with a great right foot.
“Funny enough, I coached Sarah when she was 13 or 14 with the Kilkenny Gaynor Cup team.
“I remember we were doing set-pieces at one stage and her delivery really stood out to me. It’s great now she is going to be a part of Cork City with that delivery and she really fits into the way we want to play as well.
“Sometimes when you get older players it can be a bit tougher to see if they can fit into what we are going to do but she definitely does.
“From the underage, Leah Hayes Coen is now going to be with Abby McCarthy, they will be our two goalkeepers for the year, two really good young keepers.
“In midfield, we have Kelly Leahy and Eva Mangan coming in, two technically very good players who will really complement each other, Kelly likes to sit while Eva is very creative.
“Last year with the U17s that won the league, they were very much the driving force.
Every season the quality of player we produce is just getting stronger which is really great to see and the players we had last year have grown and developed since the previous season.
“Always the big one for us is, what is winning? Winning for us is being better today than you were yesterday.
“If we can keep pushing players on to become better players I think that is us being successful and as always that’s going to be our focus.”
The Women’s National League will return to its usual format this year with each of the nine clubs involved playing against each other on three occasions.
City’s first test of their credentials comes against Galway tomorrow at 4pm with the fixture being streamed live and for free on LOI TV.
“We are really looking forward to our first game,” adds Collins.
“Us and Galway have always had a close rivalry. Geographically we are the biggest sizes outside of the capital so we have players from our areas that care about playing for their club.
“There’s a lot of pride that comes into those matches, it’s the battle between the rest of the country and you can see that on the pitch.
“It’s a clash of styles as well. They tend to be physical and direct while we like to play with pace and technical quality.
“It’s always an interesting fight, Galway are stronger this year and we have always been there or thereabouts with each other so it will give us an indicator of where we are at.”