FIONA Leonard can’t wait to play the biggest game of her football career in front of her home crowd this Saturday.
The O’Donovan Rossa defender is counting down the hours until she runs out at Rossa Park in the All-Ireland junior club championship semi-final against Wexford side Gusserane (1.30pm throw-in).
While the Skibb side is focussed on qualifying for an All-Ireland final – scheduled for Parnell Park on Sunday, December 17th – they are also relishing the opportunity to play a game of this importance in front of their home fans.
‘I can’t wait for Saturday. The work is done, the skills work is done, the running is done, the team is feeling good so it’s about us now enjoying the lead up to Saturday,’ Leonard says.
‘To get to play a game like this at home is such an honour, it’s an All-Ireland semi-final in Skibb. Given the support we have had this year it will be lovely to play in front of a home crowd.
‘That support means so much. From the group phase in the county championship, all the way through we have had really good support. You can hear them. If the game isn’t going well they’ll lift you. If you get a good turnover you’ll hear them. In the Munster final in Mallow our support was massive, and it means so much because we know we have the support of the club.’
Those travelling fans made the trip to Glasgow last weekend for the All-Ireland quarter-final win against Glasgow Gaels. Again, it was a boost for the Rossas, to look to the sideline and see familiar faces from home. That trip to Scotland had the potential to be a banana skin – the team split up on the flights to Edinburgh, half left from Cork, the other half from Dublin; the novelty of an away game; the 11.30am throw-in on Saturday morning; not knowing too much about the opposition. But the Cork and Munster junior football champions took it all in the stride.
‘I was lucky I was in the Cork group, whereas half the team had to fly out from Dublin. It was a case of getting to the hotel on Friday night and resting because we all knew we had a job to do on Saturday. We were very focussed on that: the job we had to do,’ Leonard explains.
‘There is so much maturity in the group and that shone through last weekend because everyone was so focussed. It was bed early, up early the next morning, eat well, fuel well, because we knew we had a really important job to do.
‘It really helped too when we were warming up and we saw all the support that we had on the sidelines. We wanted to win for ourselves and the management, and especially for the traveling fans.’
Skibb got the job done, a resounding 2-14 to 2-0 win that sets up this home All-Ireland semi-final. Again, it’s a new challenge for James O’Donovan’s team – a huge game at home in front of an expected large crowd. Again, Skibb will look to control the controllables.
‘We are a team that takes it game by game, we don’t look at what’s to come. We will look at what we can do and what we can control,’ explains Leonard, who is loving life as a Skibb footballer this season, as the big days just keep on coming. County final. Munster final. Now a home All-Ireland semi-final. She’s taking it all in her stride, like she has with positional change this season, moving from wing forward to wing back.
‘It was hard to adjust to it at the start, but as the season has gone on I have really enjoyed it. There is learning in it for me, but I feel comfortable there now. It’s helpful to get some runners on the wing, we have good forwards so the thinking was to see if I could play wing back,’ Leonard adds, and she’s making the jersey her own. And Saturday is a chance to show how far this entire Skibb team has developed in the past 12 months. From losing the 2022 county final to now being one win away from an All-Ireland final, it’s been a remarkable journey, and the hope is there are more big days out for the fans to come.