Cork ladies selector is impressed by what he has seen in West Cork
BY DONAL O’SULLIVAN
‘LADIES’ football in West Cork is on the rise and it’s brilliant’ – they are the thoughts of Cork selector and coach James Masters.
The Nemo man is right. Ladies football in West Cork is going places, and fast.
On the local front it has been an encouraging year with clubs in the west continuing to improve and make their presence felt at county level.
‘The games are getting better, there’s more people going to the games and the competition is great,’ Masters remarked.
‘I’m in regular contact with the West Cork manager Brian McCarthy and what they achieved this year was outstanding. The standard in West Cork is flying’.
There is evidence to back up Masters’ comments.
The West Cork divisional side contested the senior county final for the first time, taking reigning champions and kingpins Mourneabbey to a replay before eventually being beaten by the more experienced outfit that then went on to win their fifth successive Munster title.
Dohenys reached their third junior B county final in a row and, despite another agonising defeat, will look to go one better next year with a young panel at their disposal.
The junior C county final was an all West Cork affair, pitting local rivals and neighbours Skibbereen and Castlehaven against each other. A replay was required to eventually separate them with the ladies in red finally emerging victorious in another cracking final played in front of a large crowd in Dunmanway despite being played mid-week.
Couple all of that with the recent exploits of Bantry and Kinsale, and the continuous improvements in Clonakilty, Rosscarbery and Beara and it’s easy to see why Masters is buoyant.
‘Like I said, it is brilliant what the West Cork ladies did this year,’ he said.
‘In the drawn game they were within a kick of a ball of beating Mourneabbey, who have now won five in a row. The divisional side have pushed the boundaries and it’s great. Years ago it was always the same teams in the final but now there are a number of teams capable of getting there.’
By his own admission, Masters would have, especially as a player, ‘mixed feelings’ about divisional teams getting to county finals at any gender or grade. However, he gladly welcomed it in the ladies’ senior competition this year.
‘It’s great for the promotion of ladies’ football,’ he pointed out.
‘It gives players from junior clubs the chance to play at that level against current Cork senior players and that’s something they wouldn’t get otherwise. That can only be good for themselves, their clubs and the game in general which is the important thing.’
It’s obvious from talking to him how passionate he is about GAA and how vital he sees the role of the club when it comes to developing players and promoting the game. Right now he feels the ladies game is at its most attractive. That’s a big statement when you consider what Cork teams have won over the last decade.
He’s not being disrespectful. Far from it. But he understands only too well how a competitive club competition benefits a county team.
‘You look at the likes of Skibbereen and Castlehaven recently in the county junior C final, they were two great games. We have a young Skibbereen girl, Laura O’Mahony, who is a super footballer on the development squad at the moment. It’s really encouraging and then you have young local girls watching her and realising it’s possible to get to that level,’ Masters explained.
The ongoing development on the ground in West Cork is showing at the top level, too. Players are coming through from local clubs to compete at the highest level.
One third of the Cork senior panel that lost the All-Ireland final to Dublin in September came from clubs in West Cork. Six of these players started that final – Martina O’Brien (Clonakilty), Melissa Duggan (Dohenys), Emma Spillane (Bantry Blues), Libby Coppinger (St Colum’s), Aine Terry O’Sullivan (Beara) and Orla Finn (Kinsale). Four of the division’s young guns were on the bench – Nicole Quinn (Bandon), Emer and Daire Kiely (Valley Rovers) and Sadhbh O’Leary (Kinsale). Of those, O’Brien, Duggan, Spillane, O’Sullivan and Finn are all shortlisted for TG All-Star awards. Clubs in West Cork are producing top quality players. The conveyor belt is healthy.
On a personal level, Masters is loving the role on the opposite side of the white line despite initially having some concerns. It started out as a favour but given the choice now he wouldn’t change a thing.
‘I was struggling with injuries so decided to finish up playing football. Ephie (Fitzgerald) called me to see would I help out with the ladies. I wasn’t sure but I went to the first session. He asked me to organise a drill and before I knew it I was promoted and doing a lot of the coaching,’ he joked.
‘I love it and I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. We do it for the enjoyment and in the hope of winning an All-Ireland, nothing else.’
Ahead of 2018 the aim was to blood players, try to build a competitive panel and get to a standard to compete with teams with a view to progressing this the following year. But for some reason it just seemed to click, and the Rebels went all the way to an All-Ireland final against defending champions Dublin.
‘A number of fringe players really stepped up to the mark and that’s testament to their commitment, attitude and ability. It was disappointing obviously to lose the final to Dublin but also hugely encouraging as a group that we got there,’ the Cork selector said.
For the coming year their aims, as a management group, are simple – keep it enjoyable, promote the club game and go from there.
‘We’ll try to use the league campaign again this year to blood some younger players and look to build an even stronger panel,’ Masters said.
‘We are talking to the fixtures secretary to try and arrange for the girls to play with their clubs as often as possible and avoid clashes. To us that’s the important thing. Club is everything and when they are playing with their clubs, there are younger girls looking at them, aspiring to follow in their footsteps to the Cork senior panel.’
It’s fair to say the ladies’ game has progressed in recent years.
‘Previously we struggled to get pitches and we weren’t sure when or where we would be training,’ Masters admitted.
‘Our pre-season consisted of trying to organise this which was a huge distraction. Now we are finding it easier to get pitches and there are even talks of double headers with some of the senior men’s league games so that would be great.
‘It’s getting a lot easier to convince girls to come back year in year out.’
With appeal like this it looks like Cork ladies football is back. Not that it ever went away ….