WHEN Rónán Collins stepped down as Cork City Women’s manager, City had endured a tough start to the 2021 season. They were bottom of the table, having failed to win their opening eight games, losing four in a row at Turner’s Cross.
And while most expected him to continue, Collins knew he needed to leave.
“It was probably the most unfit I’ve ever been at the end of it. I didn’t feel I was looking after myself,” Collins says.
The biggest lesson he learned was to look after himself.
“You give a lot and it’s definitely something I will be looking at in the next role. You have to look after yourself, number one, so you can help others,” he says.
“It was a real privilege to coach Cork City. I got on really well with the club and I have a really positive relationship with them, so I would hope to help them again in the future in certain areas.
“I’m proud that I had that opportunity and they were really supportive. Me and everyone don’t always get things right, but I always think people’s intentions count for a lot.
“I have a lot of commitments, you are probably only home after midnight — or before midnight one day during the week —and that was a lot of time.
“I did a lot, not only with the seniors, but the whole women’s section in general, trying to grow standards and develop players and coaches.
“A lot of stuff came to a head at the time, it was a good break in the season, there were a lot of good structures put in place, so I thought it was a good time for me to move on.
“I was about five years at the club in total. Initially, when I came in, there was only the senior team and a handful of coaches doing a few sessions during the week.
“When I moved on, there was a squad of 20 players, there were 150 to 180 players across the seniors, 19s, 17s, academy, training squads, and there were around 12 training sessions a week, 30 staff. There was huge growth during that time.”
The managerial baton was passed on to his assistant, Paul Farrell, at the end of May and it has since been confirmed he will remain in charge for the 2022 campaign.
His job is to improve on their showing from last term — they finished second bottom, with just four wins in 24 games — but Collins knows it won’t be easy for his successor.
“It was a tough challenge for Paul and I’m delighted they are keeping him on next year,” says Collins.
“It’s a real positive that the club is looking after their individuals and helping them progress to a high level. Hopefully, they will remember their roots and return to the club one day.
“The clubs that invest in those growth sections, such as amputee football, women’s national league, they will only see their overall club inflate.
“It’s very hard to bring players in from the outside, because of the expenses needed in terms of travel and accommodation to get them to come to Cork.
“That’s a huge investment that would be needed to really kick on to the level to challenge for leagues.”
But while progression for City may take time, the league and women’s football in this country have taken giant strides in recent times.
Collins has seen it firsthand working with TG4 during their coverage of league games, but he has pinpointed two key areas the FAI still need to address.
“Working with TG4 has been a real eye-opener,” Collins says.
“The games have shown that the league is at a good level and the coverage has been great for its growth, but it would be great, moving forward, if it could be on week in, week out.
“There has been huge progress made in the league. You look at the record attendance league by City at their last home game, the record attendance for an FAI Cup final in Tallaght, although I would still say myself that the 2017 final had a bigger attendance.
“I was at a meeting at the start of the year with the head of RTÉ Sports and he said below 50,000 is relegation zone for viewing figures on women’s football on TV and even just football in general in Ireland has to break that number.
“I think the last Irish women’s game had 340,000 watching it, so women’s football is showing now that it’s not just something to look after and trying to build up. It’s profitable, there’s interest in it.
“A lot of people have always said ‘you invest, you promote and you show’ and people will come and that’s exactly what has happened.
“And, if anything, this is just the tip of the iceberg. One huge thing for me is our national stadium is the Aviva Stadium. We need to look at getting our women’s senior team in there.
“We need our National Cup final there as well, because, as far as I’m aware, taxpayers’ money involves people of both genders and that is what went to building the Aviva, so they should both benefit from it.
“That’s our national stadium. Tallaght Stadium is not the home of women’s football, it’s the home of Shamrock Rovers,” Collins says.