HAVING watched the women’s game for over 40 years, Tommy O’Donovan is delighted to see how it has evolved.
We caught up with him to talk about the great times his Cork sides had back in the day competing nationally and how difficult it was for the most talented players to get a fair chance internationally.
“Women’s soccer has evolved so much over the years which is fantastic to see and apart from basic things such as better pitches, facilities and coaches, Cork girls are being recognised at international level which is a massive bonus as this hadn’t always been the case,” said O’Donovan.
The 60-year-old father of two from Leghanamore was steeped in women’s football since the mid-‘70s where he had huge success at local and national level.
“I first got involved in women’s soccer in my teens. I was heavily involved in the Lough Youth Club and we formed a girls team in 1976. I was coach/manager and we competed in a Cork League at the time. We also put a team in the Community Games representing the Lough Parish.
“I used to take the Lough girls team to a tournament in the Isle of Man at Easter time and one year we combined with the Mayfield girls U16 team to form Leesiders girls soccer team. Mary Watt was involved with the Mayfield team at the time. Together we coached the Leesiders in a Cork league.
“I then managed the Cork Celtic U18 girls team to win the U18 LFAI Cup in 1981 – Chris Condon was captain of this winning team. Cork Celtic also competed in the League of Ireland at that time.
“I also helped out with coaching Thomond College women’s team in the mid-1980s and we won two intervarsities and from here I went to manage/coach Killeady Utd. We had great success with Killeady winning numerous Cork Leagues and Cups. We got to the Senior LFAI Cup in 1984 only to be beaten by sudden death penalties – the first Cork team to reach a senior final.”
O’Donovan enjoyed a lot more success as his love for the women’s game grew and his next move was to Cork Rangers. Amongst many local Cork league and cup winner medals, a Munster cup and more importantly an FAI Intermediate Cup in 1998 against St Pat’s were some of the highlights of his coaching career.
Female street ballers stick out for their natural talent and toughness. You’d almost always recognise that girl who played with the lads on the street. Back in Tommy’s day, most of his players came from that environment and he believes they were a different breed.
“When we started, players were street players and had raw talent with little coaching initially.
There was no support for the women’s game. We had no facilities – the girls changed at the side of the road and in their cars.
“There was no underage structure. Today clubs have underage set-ups, have embraced the women’s game and there are better-qualified coaches involved. Girls are coached from a much younger age and can progress up through the ranks within a club structure.
“Even without all the support back then, there was still some serious talent. I coached some great players during my time involved in women’s soccer.
“It’s difficult to single out any players as there were so many greats but the likes of Tina Hegarty, Chrissie Buckley, Ann Goggins, Ann Fahy, Chris Condon, Paula Goggins, Liz Towler, Christine O’Donovan, Brenda Meaney, Noirin Herlihy and Caroline Mitchell stand out. Apologies if I left somebody out but several of these players went on to represent Ireland.
“It was very difficult for players outside of Dublin to gain international recognition in the 1980s as Dublin was seen as the hub of women’s soccer. The international coaches did not come out of Dublin to view players."
The talent was there but many were overlooked for international teams.
“Chrissie Buckley and Ann Goggins were the first two international to come out of Cork and they set the scene for other Cork girls to get recognition. But they also had to fight harder to retain their places as they were seen as ‘outsiders’."
If he wasn’t busy enough O’Donovan also played a huge part in the men’s game. Having played with clubs such as Tramore Athletic, Albert Rovers, Everton, Northvilla, Southend, Kilreen as well as Roches Stores in the Business League, he also played hurling and football with St Finbarr’s.
On top of all that, such was his love for sport and coaching, O’Donovan was also responsible for coaching schoolboys with Everton and Ballinhassig, while also forming and managing Southend.
A family man to his core Tommy enjoyed taking a step back and watching his two daughters progress in their chosen sports.
“When I decided to finish up coaching I was still watching sport a lot as my wife Christine was still playing. I met Christine through the sport many years ago and we have two daughters, Rachel and Jennifer.
“Both played soccer with Wilton United in their early years. But their main sports were gymnastics and Irish dancing. Both competed to a high level in gymnastics with Blarney/Glasheen Gymnastics Club and did Irish dancing with Rathduff Irish Dancing School. We actively encouraged our children to get involved in sport but not to the extent that we forced them to be involved.
I would strongly encourage everyone to be involved in sport in some shape or form.
"Being physically active is great for our mental health and for healthy lives. However, not everyone wants to participate in sport – they could be coaches, administrators, volunteers, and so on.
“Sport and clubs cannot function without volunteers so getting involved is very important. Sport also brings people together socially which is great. It has given us great joy over the years and long may it continue.”