EMMA Spillane had consigned herself to a summer without football. A few months back, she had even packed away all her gear, including her boots, and put them up in the attic at home. Out of sight, out of mind.
‘To be honest, I thought at one point that was it for the year, I didn’t think there was going to be any championship, at club or inter-county level. I put all my gear up into the attic,’ she laughed.
But then GAA got the green light and Spillane dusted off her boots again.
‘It’s great to be back because as well as training and playing matches I think everyone missed the social side of it as well,’ she said.
‘Even going to watch a game, I don’t think anyone will take that for granted again.’
It didn’t take Spillane long to get back up to speed either. For both Bantry Blues and West Cork, she’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s in the middle of a busy spell. Last Friday Bantry were knocked out of the Cork intermediate football championship game after a loss to Rosscarbery while on Tuesday she will line out for West Cork against Éire Óg in a county senior football championship group clash at St Colum’s (7.30pm throw-in). Busy times, but that’s what Spillane likes.
She caught the eye at wing back in West Cork’s opening Group A match, a draw against reigning county champions Mourneabbey. The Bantry woman had a great battle with Cork star Ciara O’Sullivan. It went back and forth. Spillane showed her class again, but that’s not a surprise – before she turned 20 at the end of November 2018 she had already won two TG4 All-Star ladies football awards. In those first two seasons at senior inter-county level, she won All-Stars. She’s still only 21 years old, but decided earlier this year to take a break from the inter-county scene.
It’s worth remembering that she won five All-Ireland and Munster medals in five seasons with Cork at U16 and minor before going straight into the senior set-up.
‘I stepped back in early January. I wanted to take a break for the year, for no particular reason. I just wanted to step back for a year. I was meant to, as well, go on work placement this year but that didn’t happen because of Covid-19. Hopefully I’ll go back next year. I’ll see,’ the UCC Commerce student explained.
Stepping outside the inter-county bubble took time to get used to, but with the Covid-19 lockdown she actually has missed very little Cork action so far. Still, she’s enjoying being able to train more with Bantry, who are being coached this season by her dad, Philly, and Anne O’Grady. Reports back say she’s also playing her best football in years.
‘It was weird at the start not being involved with Cork. I had a lot more time on my hands than I was used to, but I’ve got used to that now,’ Spillane said.
‘It’s great to be able to train all the time with Bantry now. Before we would have trained the same days with Cork so maybe I was only able to train with Bantry on a handful of days every year. It’s nice to be back more with the club.’
It’s all eyes now on Éire Óg in the senior championship. West Cork’s draw with Mourneabbey coupled with the latter’s victory against Éire Óg on Monday means that West Cork will be straight into a semi-final once they avoid defeat. Given the club commitments of the players on the divisional team, the direct route to the business end is the preferred choice for all parties.
Spillane knows too that West Cork should have beaten Mourneabbey in the drawn game last week. The divisional team had their chances but missed them. Instead they had to settle for a draw instead of lowering the colours of the defending All-Ireland champions.
‘It was a good game and while we were happy with our performance there is a lot that we can work on,’ Spillane said.
‘We missed five or six goal chances that should have been put away and we were disappointed with that, but overall it was a good team performance.
‘If we had converted some of those chances we would have won. In the past few years we wouldn’t have created that many goal chances against Mourneabbey so that is a positive that we can take from it. We are creating chances and now we need to start taking them. We need to work on our finishing.’
It’s not surprising that West Cork showed signs of rustiness. They had very little time together before their first group game. The hope is they can step it up a level against an Éire Óg team that is improving each season and who has pushed West Cork all the way in recent matches. Spillane will be a central figure again.
‘She’s one of the leaders in our team. Emma might not be the most vocal but her leadership qualities are her actions on the pitch and what she does,’ West Cork boss Brian McCarthy explained.
‘Last year we played her at wing back and she is there again this season, and that gives us a consistency. As well as being a good defender she gives us another dimension when she attacks.’
If West Cork are to rattle the county this season, they’ll need Spillane at full tilt. The signs so far are encouraging.