WHEN Treaty United arrived at Turner’s Cross ahead of their Women’s National League clash with Cork City, manager Niall Connolly must have grown in confidence knowing that two of his starting eleven were eager to make an impression.
Just a few short months ago Olivia Gibson was slotting home a penalty to help City’s under 17s win the league title while Jesse Mendez was in the senior’s travelling party for the FAI Cup final.
But now, both are starring for their Munster rivals and both helped the Limerick club secure a huge three points against City with a 3-2 triumph recently to send them above the Leesiders in the table.
“It definitely motivated me a bit more than regular games, it’s as if I wanted to prove a point to myself,” Mendez told the Echo.
“From when the fixtures came out at the start of the season, May 22nd was a date me and Olivia looked forward to and counted down.
“I was delighted that Olivia had a great game, she has unbelievable potential.
"Both of us had a point to prove but only to ourselves that we do have the ability to compete at this level.
“If that meant going outside of Cork and playing with another team then myself and Olivia were willing to do that and it certainly proved a worthwhile move.
“It was the biggest game I’ve ever had to play, therefore it is one of my favourite moments in football to date.
“I remember myself and Olivia running to each other afterwards and without saying a word, our smiles said exactly how we felt. Hard work and resilience paid off for us.”
The youngster graduated from Ballyphehane Presentation Girls secondary school the day before the game but opted to celebrate with a quiet night instead to ensure she was fully ready come kick off.
While Gibson impressed further up the pitch, Mendez restricted City at the other end having switched from playing centre midfield to centre back in the last few weeks, providing her with more lessons to be learned.
“I graduated from school the day before so the celebrations were put on hold till after the game.
"They would’ve only happened if we won so luckily I spent that evening celebrating both with my family. It was definitely worth the wait,” added Mendez.
“We were disappointed to concede two goals and I felt a bigger scoring gap was deserved but we got the three points and that’s all that mattered.
“It was strange at first when you’re playing against girls who you’re very close with but as soon as the whistle blew I knew I had to block all that out and treat it like any other game.
“To be honest, you’re always going to be up for it a bit more playing against your former team and it was a great feeling to get the win.
“When I was asked to slot in there by my manager I never hesitated.
"For me, it was just about doing whatever I could to strengthen and benefit the team.
“I do miss playing in midfield, I enjoyed being creative and assisting goals but I’m still enjoying my new role and look forward to learning more.”
The victory meant even more to Jesse Mendez and her family due to the tragic loss of one of her biggest supporters, her grandfather Jerry O’Connell just over two weeks before the match.
Shortly after full time, Mendez was greeted by her grandmother, who was undoubtedly proud of her performance in difficult circumstances.
“Minutes after the final whistle, the one person I wanted to see in particular was my nan who has been my number one fan in every single game I play,” she admits.
“This was a tough game for her to come and watch as it was her first time out of the house since my grandad passed away.
“We’ve had a heartbreaking few weeks so it meant more to me to put a smile on her face for those few minutes than anything else in the world, I couldn’t wait to squeeze her.
“It really showed the true importance of sport and how the distraction of it can help us so much at the most difficult of times.
“For all my close family, this win meant a lot more than three points as it put a smile back on all our faces.
“My grandad used to ask me every single day about my game at the weekend and although it hurt a lot not being able to tell him about this one, I’m sure he was beaming down.”