DINNY Cahalane knows the value of Siobhan Courtney. The Castlehaven ladies football manager isn’t one for picking out individuals. It’s a squad effort, he insists. But he also admits that Courtney’s influence, both on and off the pitch, has been crucial to the Union Hall-Castletownshend club’s success.
‘Castlehaven didn’t have Siobhan for the first year or two after we started a ladies football team in our club as she was over in Dubai,’ Cahalane explains.
‘She was back a year when we decided to make her team captain because the leadership qualities she showed and continues to show is unreal. A bit of the teacher comes out in her especially when she is dealing with some of younger players. In fairness to her, Siobhan is an unbelievable player and that’s why everyone at the club looks up to her.
‘Even during lockdown, you would always see Siobhan out running along the roads. There may not be any matches or training happening, but she is setting a great example to all the players by keeping herself fit and preparing for whenever we are allowed to return.’
When Siobhan Courtney decided to end her Dubai adventure and move back home to Castlehaven in 2016, the drop in temperature was softened by her love of football.
She had taken a career break from teaching in Darrara National School to move to Dubai where her sister Mairead was working as a secondary school teacher.
‘Having Mairead over there plus plenty of teaching opportunities, I made the move. Signing up for the Dubai Celts GAA Club was a really enjoyable experience and where I fell in love with ladies’ football,’ Courtney says.
Life in the Middle East was clearly something she enjoyed both on and off the pitch. So, how difficult a decision was it to come home?
‘Yes, I had taken a career break but I loved the Dubai lifestyle, loved teaching there and the close-knit group of friends I had,’ Courtney says.
‘Staying in the Middle East was definitely something I considered. I decided to come home in the end and if I wasn’t happy, sure I could always move again. Having the opportunity to play football with Castlehaven was a big focus when I came home and something I really got into.’
The Courtney sisters, Siobhan and Mairead, certainly enjoyed their time away from home and were part of the Middle East GAA ladies’ team that competed at the first-ever GAA World Games held in Abu Dhabi back in 2015.
Amazingly, Courtney’s only previous ladies football experience was representing Skibbereen LGFA at underage level before a brief stint with a Castlehaven team that was later disbanded. Gabriel Rangers was the West Cork club Courtney was with for a couple of years before attending college in Mary I.
Basketball was her sport of choice in college rather than football. In fact, it was not until returning home from her Middle Eastern adventures that Courtney made her debut for a new Castlehaven ladies football team in 2016.
The Haven’s ladies set-up was only a year old when their future captain got involved but it would prove a fruitful partnership as the West Cork side slowly began to make their presence felt at county championship level. They’ve climbed the ladder since. With Courtney as captain Castlehaven won the 2020 Cork LGFA junior B county title by defeating local rivals O’Donovan Rossa in the final, and she also impressed on the West Cork team that won the county senior championship last year.
This season Courtney and Castlehaven will campaign at junior A level. They will take on the likes of Douglas, Dromtarriffe, Naomh Abán and, intriguingly, another West Cork rival in Dohenys.
‘Last year was the year we realised how good we are as a team,’ Courtney says.
‘We had some comprehensive wins throughout the championship which gave us a big confidence boost. That will stand to us going forward and the team is staying together this coming year so there is a lot to look forward to.
‘The momentum is there and our aim is to win this year’s junior A championship. We are not there to make up the numbers and we believe we are more than capable of doing it. Our management team is brilliant and has high expectations of us. Our long-term goal is to get to senior.’
Courtney’s consistent displays in helping both the Castlehaven juniors and West Cork seniors secure Cork county titles reiterates Dinny Cahalane’s assertion that his club captain is one of the most undervalued players in the county.
‘Siobhan is unbelievably underrated as a player,’ Cahalane states.
‘I watched West Cork’s county senior final win over Mourneabbey online and Siobhan never put a foot wrong. Siobhan is a born leader and a great player to talk her teammates through a match, always encouraging and bringing them along.
‘I just believe she is totally underrated on that West Cork team. As far as I can see, Siobhan is up there with the best West Cork players and was one of their most consistent performers not just in the final but throughout the championship as well.
‘Castlehaven will need Siobhan going full tilt in this year’s junior A championship because when she is at her best, everyone else just follows’
One of West Cork’s most underrated players looks set to add to her growing reputation in 2021, and Castlehaven will reap those rewards.