IT was always going to be a huge year for Cobh Ramblers given that 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of when the football club was officially formed.
But it has just become even more significant as the Rams are set to take their first steps into women’s football at national level in the new year having had their application to join the under 17 league accepted by the Football Association of Ireland.
“We are delighted to have secured our place in the national under 17 league especially in what will be the centenary year for the club,” chairman Bill O’Leary, who was also recently elected to the National Leagues Committee, told the Echo.
“It's a proud moment for everyone involved in the club and it is a key part of our best strategy for growth and diversification.
“This new team will help to accommodate the growing talent at this age in Cobh and the wider region.
“It's important we facilitate the development of young players to complement Cork City.
“There is no reason why Cork, given its population and the expected growth of the playing numbers, should not be a very strong force nationally.
“We want to be a part of this.” Ramblers had initially been hoping that they would be admitted into the Women’s National League at senior level but when that prospect seemed unlikely, they changed their application to join the underage set-up.
The tenth and final WNL place instead went to Sligo Rovers but O’Leary admits they still hope to join Cork City in that division in the future.
“After careful consideration by us as a board, it’s more prudent for us to start nationally at the youngest allowable age group,” he added.
“Building from the bottom best ensures that we get the on-field and off-field structures right.
“The risk of going straight in at senior level is that the necessary player pathways are absent.
“There is a reason why most clubs follow the route we are on. We saw no real benefit in being an exception.
“Our intention is to move into the under 19s in due course followed by a senior team within three to four years.
“This is dependent not only on meeting the necessary FAI criteria but also on player numbers, and community support along with the ever-required support of sponsors.
“Our feeling is that we are best placed to consider all these aspects from a position of involvement.” But while the club will already be rewriting the record books in their centenary year by making the move into the highest levels of women’s football in this country, Aoife O’Brien is also set to make history by becoming the first female manager Ramblers have ever had.
The Glanmire native was recently appointed as the manager of this under 17 side and she has already begun the process of recruiting players as they look to challenge rivals Cork City for silverware.
“It feels great,” enthused O’Brien.
“It’s such an exciting time for football in Cobh with our first girl's team and I’m extremely excited to be at the head of it.
“It’s such a massive moment for Cobh town and for all the young girls in the surrounding areas. We have one of the biggest academies in Cobh with over 250 girls playing football.
“I think having an LOI team for them to watch and support locally and strive to be apart of will be life-changing.
“Watching the rivalry between the mens and underage games through the years has always been exciting.
“It will be great adding a girls team to this. I think the talent pool in Cork is definitely good enough for two teams and it will be a great display of what Cork has to offer to watch both teams compete.
“We have good players coming through the Springfield academy and we will look around East Cork at the likes of Midleton, etc.
“But this year we are going in with an open mind to all the players, we will be holding an open trial in the new Stephen Ireland astroturf in Cobh where everybody is welcome.
“Our goal for this season is to try and stay competitive and become a team that is tough to beat.
“This year as a new club, we will focus on developing the players and getting a foothold in the league.
“I want Cobh Ramblers to become a team where the players can enjoy and develop their football whilst also keeping that competitive edge.” The 2022 season is scheduled to start in March and an announcement on fixtures will be made in the coming weeks.