THREE Cork players will line out for the Underdogs team who will play All-Ireland champions Meath this Saturday at 1.30pm in the Ashbourne GAA Club.
Cork trio Áine Cronin, Aoife Plunkett, and Rachel Sheehan are all members of this year's Underdogs panel.
Passage West club player Rachel Sheehan has relished her time playing with the Underdogs ladies footballers. Rachel successfully came through a series of trial games and in-house challenge games which were attended by hundreds of players nationwide The former Cork underage football star successfully negotiated her way through the various selection procedures to ensure she became a valued member of their squad.
Rachel said she decided to pursue her goal of making the Underdogs squad when the trials commenced as she wanted to garner more experience and ‘play more’ competitive football.
“My mom actually sent me the link to sign up for the Underdogs experience. I wanted to go for it because at the time I was only playing club football and I wanted to play more,” she said.
The 20-year-old Passage West club player is currently in her second year in University College Cork where she is studying commerce.
Rachel enjoyed a very successful underage career with Cork as she played all the way from U14 level up to minor level. In total, she won four Munster championship titles and an All-Ireland championship title in 2019. Rachel lined out at cornerback on the successful Cork minor team who defeated Monaghan by 12 points.
Despite all her success with the various Cork underage teams, Rachel said she was ‘nervous’ before she embarked on her Underdogs odyssey.
The trials were very tough and the standard was very high. I just remember looking at the girls who took part in the trials before me and thinking these players are class.”
The Underdogs this season are being guided by three very experienced coaches. Legendary former Kerry player and manager Mickey Ned O’Sullivan is joined by former Donegal senior footballer Kevin Cassidy and former Waterford senior footballer Michelle Ryan. Rachel has enjoyed working with the three coaches.
“At first we knew who the coaches were but we didn’t know them very well. It was nice getting to know them personally as the process got underway. They have so much knowledge and experience between them. The three of them work well together. I have really enjoyed working with them.”
Rachel has thoroughly enjoyed the whole Underdogs experience. The ‘journey’ has resulted in the Passage West club player making new friends.
“The whole Underdogs experience has been a journey. Sometimes we would have to travel three hours just for training or to play a match which is sometimes tough but when you get up there it’s worth the drive.
"I love meeting all the girls at every training session and matches. I have definitely made friends for life. It has been a great experience.”
Rachel who normally plays anywhere along the full-back line credits the Underdogs for helping her improve her fitness since she embarked on her experience. She is looking forward to lining out against Meath in the one-off tie.
“My fitness has improved hugely since doing the Underdogs. Fitness wouldn’t have been one of my favourite things to do. I would never know how to go about improving my fitness levels, but the Underdogs gave us fitness plans which really helped me.
“It will be a huge challenge for us because Meath are a super team,” she added.
Rachel along with Éire Óg player Áine Cronin and St Val’s player Aoife Plunkett all successfully make the final Underdogs squad. She is delighted three Cork players made the final squad.
“It’s so good having two other girls from Cork on the team. It is a great achievement for the three of us to make the final squad. I didn’t know Áine and Aoife at first but now I feel like I have known them for years. We all share lifts and we have a great laugh going up in the car. It’s nice to have company in the car as it makes the journey feel shorter.”
Rachel has loved representing her beloved Passage West club on the national stage. She loves the unity and the close nature of all involved with the Passage West LFC.
“I started playing football when I was five or six. Passage is a super club to be part of as everyone always looks out for one another.
The former Cork underage player is also very grateful for the support she has received from her family.
“My mom drove me up to Dublin twice for the two trials when she didn’t have to. We would be a big GAA family so we would talk about the Underdogs a lot. Initially, only my coaches knew about me going for the Underdogs and they were very supportive. They were always asking me how I was getting on. I’m very proud to be representing my club, family, and friends.”