Four of West Cork’s title-winning heroes chart their journey to 2020 county senior football glory
AFTER waiting for five seasons, it took four games for West Cork to finally reach the promised land and become first-time Cork ladies’ football senior champions in 2020.
A reduced championship, due to Covid-19, meant there was little margin for error, but Brian McCarthy’s divisional side safely negotiated each step of the way before deservedly being crowned 2020 senior champions.
STEP ONEL v Mourneabbey, Cork SFC Group A; July 28th, 2020 in Mourneabbey
As championship openers go, they don’t come much harder than facing the defending All-Ireland, provincial and county title-holders on their home pitch.
West Cork had tasted defeat in both previous county deciders against Mourneabbey, and both sides were short a host of regulars as the 2020 senior campaign got underway.
‘We managed to get a few challenge matches in against Bride Rovers and Ballymacarbry (Waterford) before that first day out against Mourneabbey,’ West Cork captain Áine Terry O’Sullivan remembered.
‘The Ballymacarbry game was a very good one for us and I think they might have edged it. The result wasn’t important, it was more to get a quality game under the belts and against a team that had played Mourneabbey a lot over recent years.
‘We didn’t train much together beforehand, just those two challenge games, so it was only our fourth time meeting up as a squad.’
Despite a disjointed build-up, neither side took a backward step and produced a thriller before having to settle for a share of the spoils. The final score was 0-16 to 2-10 on an evening O’Sullivan contributed 1-5 from the edge of the square.
‘Preparations probably weren’t the best but it was the same for Mourneabbey,’ O’Sullivan added.
‘Both teams felt they had a lot to work on after it. It was a great game and anyone that was there enjoyed it. It followed a similar storyline to our previous meetings, a tight game that could have gone either way.
‘It finished in a draw but we missed an awful lot of chances so we knew we had a lot of work to do but that we also had the measure of them (Mourneabbey). They had been such a huge team inside and outside Cork but that game showed we were getting closer to them and helped drive us on for the rest of the year.
‘Obviously, everyone was disappointed we didn’t manage to come away with a victory on the night. I had a great chance to win it near the end.’
Áine Terry O’Sullivan knew a draw with Mourneabbey wasn’t a bad result and it kept alive their hopes of emerging from a group as semi-finalists rather than quarter-final qualifiers.
‘Getting a draw from such a huge game for both teams was a good result in the end. We went on to beat Éire Óg and make it through to the semi-finals anyway,’ the West Cork captain admitted.
‘It was that performance more so than the result against Mourneabbey that set the tone for the rest of the year. It was a battle but a really enjoyable game too. We put in two excellent performances in the next two games and made it back to the final only to face Mourneabbey once again.
‘Everyone was saying we were a lot more confident about ourselves this year and I think that result the first night in Mourneabbey was a big reason for it.’
STEP TWO: v Éire Óg, Cork SFC Group A; August 11th, 2020 in Kealkill
The West Cork juggernaut rolled into Kealkill hoping to build on their encouraging draw against Mourneabbey. Playing in the heart of their rural region, the West Cork players understood the importance of showing what they were capable of against an up and coming Éire Óg.
Experienced Cork goalkeeper Martina O’Brien knew better than most what the importance of winning a championship game in front of their own supporters would mean.
‘When you have a home game in West Cork it could literally be anywhere because the area is so big,’ the Clonakilty net-minder commented.
‘There was a large number of West Cork players living ‘west along’, as we say, togged out that night. Libby and Maggie Coppinger were playing on their home St Colum’s ground. We also had a few girls from Bantry and Beara playing as well.
‘That’s why playing such an important game in the heart of West Cork was great for those girls and the whole squad, really. It is rare to have such an important county championship game played that far west. Our senior team has always attracted a lot of support which is why it was nice to take the game to Kealkill.
‘First and foremost, it was an important game and one we had to win, but I felt it was also a showcase for us and to show everyone in attendance what we were about. Thankfully, things worked out really well for us that night.’
Despite a spirited Éire Óg effort, West Cork registered the 2-15 to 0-9 victory they needed to qualify for the last four of the county championship.
As a bonus, shot-stopper O’Brien kept a clean sheet in a game West Cork learned the lessons of their championship opener and put in the kind of display that augured well for the remainder of the campaign.
‘Looking back, having to play that Mourneabbey game first was a big help ahead of the Éire Óg match,’ O’Brien admitted.
‘We weren’t sure of where we were at heading into the first game against Mourneabbey. There were a few girls injured that first night out. That meant more changes and positional switches than we thought we would have.
‘Despite that, we played really well and should have come away with a win. That performance really set us up for the Éire Óg match.’
Ahead of their visit to the heart of West Cork, Éire Óg pushed reigning All-Ireland champions Mourneabbey to the limit before eventually losing 0-15 to 0-10.
‘We knew Éire Óg were doing really well after their performance against Mourneabbey,’ O’Brien added.
‘They put it up to them as much as had so playing Éire Óg in Kealkill was really important and we had to be focussed in on it. If we won, we were straight through to the semi-finals even though we knew there was a safety net of a quarter-final if we lost.
‘We wanted to show everyone that West Cork was trying to win a county and taking the most direct route. I guess defeating Éire Óg and the manner in which we did it showed everyone what we were about.’
STEP THREE: v Aghada, Cork LGFA SFC county semi-final; August 29th, 2020 in Cloughduv
West Cork wanted to lay down a marker and achieved that goal thanks to five goals courtesy of player of the match Fiona Keating. The dual star’s standout individual performance helped her division to the most convincing of 9-15 to 1-9 victories.
Keating was instrumental in setting up a mouth-watering final against equally impressive semi-final winners and reigning All-Ireland club champions Mourneabbey.
‘We saw how Aghada came back to beat Kinsale in the quarter-finals and were not taking them lightly,’ Keating commented.
‘It was a very busy day for me as Courcey Rovers were preparing for camogie championship so I showed my face at our usual 8am Saturday morning training session. I just wanted to be there for the girls as it was so close to the championship.
‘Aghada were a big challenge for us with the likes of Hannah Looney and Sarah Leahy in their line-up.’
Keating helped West Cork overcome that challenge in the most emphatic fashion by netting a 12-minute hat-trick and adding two additional goals for good measure.
‘I had never scored five goals in a match before that evening,’ the West Cork forward said.
‘I do remember scoring 3-2 in an All-Ireland minor semi-final against Dublin but never put up as high a tally as I did against Aghada in the county semi-final. There were lots of great memories for me over the past year but that win over Aghada is definitely up there. Obviously, winning the county senior football and camogie finals in the same year was special as well but all three of those games will always stick in my memory.’
STEP FOUR: v Mourneabbey, Cork LGFA SFC county final; September 12th, 2020 in Cork IT
A never-to-be-forgotten afternoon for the few fortunate to be in CIT to witness West Cork’s first ever senior LGFA county title. The two best teams in the competition met in the final for the third year running but this time, West Cork came out on top.
Disappointingly, Covid-19 restrictions meant no supporters were present but that didn’t stop an enthralling contest from developing and one in which St Colum’s Libby Coppinger played a starring role.
Coppinger would finish with 2-3 of her side’s winning total (of 4-9) and produce her best performance in a West Cork jersey.
‘Things just went right on the day,’ Coppinger said.
‘It wasn’t a particularly great start but once we got going, as a team, it all came together on the day. We had that belief. This year and all the previous years, it was about taking the right option up front. It didn’t matter who was getting on the scoreboard as long as we are getting the scores.
‘There was incredible work from everyone all over the field so I could get those scores that day. I know that even if I hadn’t played well and we still managed to win that I would have been just as happy at the final whistle.’
Coppinger’s two goals came at vital moments. Managing to evade the grip of a tight-marking Mourneabbey defence, the St Colum’s forward netted her first shortly after West Cork had conceded 1-2 during a disastrous start. An absolute Coppinger thunderbolt into the top corner made it 3-5 to 2-7 in the division’s favour at the break.
‘The first one came about after a long ball in. I’ve been encouraged to take defenders on so I backed myself, put my head down and went for it. Luckily, it went in,’ the Cork dual star said.
‘I think that goal helped kick us into gear, to be honest. I know I got a huge boost from seeing the ball go in the back of the net. The second, I had two or three defenders on me and I was forced wide but managed to squeeze it into the net just before half time.
‘I know Meabh O’Sullivan saved another shot from me before my second goal so I was glad to see that one go in. It was an awkward shot and I remember praying it would go over the line from the moment it left my foot. Things weren’t looking too good for us at that point but what a feeling when it did finally go in!
‘I knew then once I turned around to the others that we were still in this game and had everything to fight for. Thankfully, we managed to win in the end and I’ll never forget that feeling at the final whistle. The celebrations, lifting the cup, it was just a brilliant day.’
2020 will be remembered for a lot of reasons but the West Cork ladies management, backroom team, players and supporters are unlikely to forget the feeling of becoming Cork LGFA senior county champions.
Wrestling the trophy from All-Ireland champions Mourneabbey was no mean feat, especially after coming up short in the previous two finals.
It took four steps to eradicate the memories of all those previous county final heartbreaks. The most talented West Cork squad ever to emerge from the region achieved their ultimate goal in a season like no other.