THE West Cork Schoolboys and Schoolgirls League’s name change comes at an opportune time to promote a new era of schoolgirls football in the region.
There is a rich tradition of schoolgirls football in the West Cork region, despite the lack of a competitive age grade since 2015.
So, news of a name change to the West Cork Schoolboys and Schoolgirls League is a welcome development as a commitment to deliver U12 and U14 schoolgirls’ competitions, depending on numbers and a flattening of the Covid-19 virus curve, later this year.
It is six years since a competitive West Cork Schoolgirls League took place in the rural region.
The 2014-15 season saw Bantry Bay Rovers, Bunratty United, Dunmanway Town, Lyre Rovers, and Drinagh Rangers play each other home and away to decide the SuperValu WCSL U16 Schoolgirls League champions.
Kealkil-based Bantry Bay struggled throughout that year with a young line-up and found the going tough against older and more seasoned opposition.
Despite a disappointing year, Bantry Bay has since become successful in promoting both girls’ and women’s football within their growing set-up.
In more recent times, the production of a new ‘Bantry Bay Rovers FC Action Plan’ to increase female participation within the club proved a notable accomplishment. So much so, that three young Bantry Bay graduates, Rebecca Keane, Fran Houlihan, and Sophie O’Sullivan, progressed to the Cork City Women’s FC academy last year.
Since the plan’s implementation, Bantry’s promotion of schoolgirls’ and ladies’ football has also seen a huge number of new female members sign up.
Further proof that Bay Rovers remain on the right path to re-establish women’s football at the heart of their community saw the Kealkil side win the 2020 Lake House Beauty Rooms Women’s 7s Shield trophy.
Bantry proved too strong for Aultagh Celtic and ran out 4-2 winners in last year’s shield final.
Bunratty United finished fourth in the U16 Schoolgirls League back in 2015. Yet, the Schull-based club were at one point the most dominant schoolgirls team in the region.
Blessed with a talented squad, United won 2009, 2010, and 2011 SuperValu U16 Schoolgirls League and Cup doubles before ending their magnificent run with a fourth consecutive schoolgirls cup triumph in 2012.
Dunmanway Town finished a creditable third in 2015 thanks to Sophie McCarthy, Michelle Love, Libby Blewitt, and Anna Deane’s combined efforts. The reintroduction of a schoolgirls age-grade should ignite interest in a club synonymous with producing quality footballers.
Lyre Rovers could look back on 2015 with justifiable frustration, having finished runners-up to Drinagh Rangers in both league and cup competitions. Rovers were coming off a successful campaign of their own, having been crowned schoolgirls champions the previous year. 2013 saw Lyre complete a league and cup double after finishing second behind Riverside Athletic the season before.
Meadhbh Coomey, Chelsie O’Driscoll, Fern McCarthy, Clara Crowley, Sinead Meirs, Catherine Lordan, and Moira Barrett were some of the individuals who helped Lyre Rovers enjoy a successful spell.
As with Dunmanway, there is plenty of footballing talent to call upon in the areas surrounding Lyre when the new schoolgirls’ competitions kick off later this year.
Drinagh Rangers were the last club to lift a schoolgirls trophy in West Cork back in 2015. Current WCSL chairman Declan Deasy led a young Rangers outfit to a schoolgirls U16 league and cup double. Having toiled hard in previous years, the Canon Crowley Park club were rewarded for their dedication and hard work, with two trophies at the conclusion of an unblemished season.
That year, Rangers won all eight SuperValu U16 Schoolgirls League matches to become champions and defeated Dunmanway Town 5-0 to reach the SuperValu U16 Schoolgirls Cup final. There, Drinagh came face to face with old rivals Lyre Rovers and triumphed 3-1 to round off a perfect campaign. Niamh McCarthy, Katie Cronin, Roisin O’Driscoll, Rachel O’Donovan, Emer O’Sullivan, Imogen Deasy, Niamh McCarthy, and Rachel Whelton were some of the players who starred in a Drinagh talented squad.
There is every chance we could see a new Drinagh Rangers schoolgirls team emerging over the next couple of years, considering the huge numbers of academy players currently training at Canon Crowley Park.
One club that has not featured in any previous West Cork Schoolgirls grade is Skibbereen AFC.
Yet, the Baltimore Road club have made a name for themselves in the Cork Women’s Schoolgirls Soccer League, fielding teams each season since a successful 2018 debut thanks to dedicated work behind the scenes by Deirdre Walsh.
The latter and Ger Carey coached a Skibbereen squad that won the inaugural Aldi Community Games Cork County Girls indoor soccer title in 2017.
They finished top of a three-team mini-tournament involving Beara and Enniskeane to become 2017 regional champions and qualify for the Munster finals at the University of Limerick. Since then, Skibbereen AFC’s women’s soccer programme, in partnership with a national 20x20 programme, has seen the club’s schoolgirls team go from strength to strength. Hopefully, future Skibb teams will also get an opportunity to compete in schoolgirls competitions within their region.
Reenergising West Cork schoolgirls football is going to take time and effort.
Yet more than enough footballing talent exists in the region to establish schoolgirls’ football again. If enough parents and coaches step forward, in conjunction with the WCSSL committee, West Cork schoolgirls will have the opportunity to play the sport in a competitive, safe environment.