Top local sportswomen put West on international map

January 15th, 2018 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

Denise Walsh, Skibbereen rowing club is laying the foundations for what she hopes will be another year of progression.

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Here in West Cork we are blessed with world-class sportswomen who compete with and beat the best at local, national and world level. KIERAN McCARTHY profiles the top ten sports women – from a variety of different sports – who have put West Cork on the map and who will all make more headlines this year


Aileen Kelly

Motorsport, Rosscarbery

In a sport overwhelming dominated by her male colleagues, Rosscarbery’s Aileen Kelly is one of the few female co-drivers regularly competing in rallying. Indeed, the West Cork region has probably the highest percentage of female rally co-drivers in Irish motorsport.

The 24-year-old former hairdresser and now Special Needs Assistant has been co-driving since she was 17, her sister Sorcha and father Bob have also called the pacenotes.

Aileen already has vast experience and aside from Irish rally championships, she has competed in the British Rally Championship with Galwegain Dean Raftery. In 2016 she won the R2 class within the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship with Coleraine’s Richard Tannahill.  She is also the regular co-driver for Carrigaline’s Eric Calnan, who won last year’s Junior section of the Southern 4 Rally Championship.

Her plans for this season include selected rounds of the Dance To Tipperary Irish Tarmac Championship and the Triton Showers National Rally Championship with Richard Tannahill, who will campaign a Peugeot 208 R5.  

Meanwhile, she will also partner Eric Calnan in a Peugeot 106 in rounds of the Southern 4 series and possible a forest event. Interestingly, in the past Aileen has co-driven on forest events with Enniskillen’s Shane McGirr (Toyota Starlet) and Down’s John Gordon (Ford Escort).  


Laura Sheehan

Rugby, Urhan

Laura finished 2017 on a high note with the Munster Women’s team and she’s hoping to continue that winning feeling in 2018 with her club, UL Bohemians.

The Urhan woman (24) played her part as Munster Women won the interprovincial title back off Leinster in mid-December; that was the second game in a row that Laura started having made her full debut in the victory against Ulster in the previous game where she also ran in a second-half try, showing why she was drafted in to shake up the back three.

The UL student (she’s studying a Masters in HR) sat out the opening loss against Connacht but made her presence felt against Ulster and Leinster, and she’s targeting a return to the Munster squad for the interpros towards the end of 2018.

Before that she’ll be busy with her club UL Bohemians in the league and cup, with their first game back this Saturday. Her main goals are simple: win the league and cup.

Given the form she showed with Munster, we wouldn’t bet against her.


Mairead O’Driscoll

Bowling, Castletownshend

There’s plenty of top-class bowling talent in West Cork – 2016 Munster senior champion Geraldine Daly, 2017 Gretta Cormican winner Emma Fitzpatrick, multiple All-Ireland winner Maria Nagle – but we’ve plumped for Mairead on the back of her 2017 All-Ireland intermediate success.

The Carbery and Cork champion was too good for Emma Jane O’Neill in the All-Ireland final in Armagh, as she won her second All-Ireland title, adding to the U18 crown she won in Portmor/Blackwatertown in 2014.

The UCC student has had plenty of success from her underage days, including county U12 and U14 success in 2009, and now she will battle it out in the senior ranks this year, hoping her momentum can help her cause a few shocks along the way.




Emma Spillane

Ladies Football, Bantry

It’s almost 12 months to the day (a league opener against Kerry in Mallow) since Emma made her Cork senior football debut – and what an incredible year it was for the young Bantry Blues defender.

She won five All-Ireland and Munster titles in her underage days with Cork so the talent and potential is there, and no-one was really surprised when she made such a big impact with the Rebel seniors in 2017, to such an extent that she won an All-Star award in November, named corner back on a star-studded selection; the county’s only All-Star representative last season.

The 19-year-old UCC first year student is only going to get better and she’ll improve even more after her 2017 experience.

Emma’s emergence was one of big plus points from last season and she has the ability to become a mainstay of the Cork defence for years to come.


Deirdre Goggin

Horse-racing, Goleen

On New Year’s Day in Durrus, Deirdre’s familiar green and white colours were seen in the winner’s enclosure yet again after she rode Rhyds Ponder to a Grade A victory, having taken second at the St Stephen’s Day meet in Drimoleague. 

It’s been another impressive start to the season for the current ITHRF Road Racing Female Jockey of the Year who is flying the female flag in a male-dominated sport with her consistent success. Deirdre won the 2016 Jockey of the Year award after her winter road racing success aboard Rhyds Ponder; this was a first, and a major breakthrough, for the 31-year-old Goleen woman who hails from a very strong trotting and harness racing family.

She rode her first big winner when she was 14 years old, on board Torpedo, and Deirdre hasn’t looked back since.


Orla Cronin

Camogie, Enniskeane

When Barryroe’s Jennifer O’Leary retired from inter-county camogie, West Cork lost its finest-ever camogie player – and while her boots will never be completely filled, Orla Cronin has done her bit to keep the West Cork flag flying on the national scene.

The UCC student is starting her fifth season on the Cork senior team and in the previous four campaigns, she has contested an All-Ireland final every year and has three winner’s medals to her name.

Last season was her best in a Cork jersey and her performance in the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny where she scored three points in a tight game earned her the player of the match award, and the 22-year-old has the potential to move to the next level and become a mainstay of the Rebels for years to come.


Lily de la Cour

Kickboxing, Bantry

We don’t have many current or former world champions in West Cork – but this Bantry kickboxer belongs to that unique club after her heroics at the 2015 WAKO World Kickboxing Championships when she won her category (-50kg senior).

Unfortunately, Lily relinquished her crown at last November’s WAKO senior worlds in Hungary, unlucky to lose in the final, but that setback hasn’t knocked her off course. Instead she’s intent on showing she’s the best in the business this year. 

The West Cork Kickboxing Club star is targeting the WAKO European Championships in Slovenia and, she hopes, a clash with the Hungarian fighter who beat her at the 2017 world championships; Lily wants to set the record straight.

And ominously for the rest, she feels she’s getting better all the time. Lily is world class.


Orla Finn

Ladies Football, Kinsale

It’s a sign of her talent that Orla makes scoring look easy – but it’s her journey to becoming Cork’s most lethal forward that tells us more about her character. She’s now a former All-Star footballer (2016) and regarded as one of the best in the business but she had to wait for her big chance. When it came in 2016, she took it. And she hasn’t looked back since.

Player of the match in the 2017 Division 1 national league final for Cork against Donegal after she scored 1-10, last year saw this lethal forward continue to torment opposition teams and also grow as a leader; she captained the West Cork ladies senior football team.

While her inter-county season was cut short at the All-Ireland semi-final stage, she then fired her club Kinsale to county and Munster intermediate titles, racking up some absurd tallies along the way. She scored 3-6 against Austin Stacks in a Munster intermediate semi, 3-8 against Clonmel Commercials in the final, 0-8 against Maigh Cuilinn in an All-Ireland semi-final and 1-5 in the All-Ireland final loss to Dunboyne – that’s 7-27 in four matches, an average of 12 points per game.

This year Orla will spearhead the Cork challenge and Kinsale’s first senior campaign: expect more fireworks and lots of scores.


Phil Healy

Athletics, Ballineen

Of all West Cork sportswomen, it’s Phil that has got off to a flying start this year with a new 400m PB of 53.15 at the North West Games in Athlone. Not only did she beat her previous PB of 53.49, she also ran the world indoor and European outdoor standards. Considering that qualifying for 2018 World Indoor Championships in Birmingham on March 1st-4th as well as the European Athletics Championships (outdoor) in Berlin next August were two of her big targets this year, she’s hit her rhythm early.

Last year, the 23-year-old set five new PBs, that shows her continuing progression and development as she gets faster and faster – and that’s exactly the direction she needs to be moving if she wants to run for Ireland at the Tokyo Olympics; that’s the big goal.

Phil has moved from UCC and is now studying a Masters’ in Waterford IT and availing of the top-class facilities at WIT Arena with her coach Shane McCormack, and she has a great support team around her.

Her goal this year is to get faster – and she’s off to a fast start with that 400m PB that followed on from breaking the national 300m record in mid-December.


Denise Walsh

Rowing, Skibbereen

Currently in Seville on an international training camp, the Skibbereen rower is laying the foundation for what she hopes will be another year of progression, and all the time working towards the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The 25-year-old from Munig North near Lough Hyne, just outside Skibbereen, saw plenty of the headlines last year as she won her first international medals, silver at the European Rowing Championships and also silver at World Cup Regatta I. 

Denise then finished sixth in the A final of the lightweight women’s single sculls at the World Rowing Championships in Florida, meaning she finished the year as the sixth best in the world, a huge rise from coming in 14th at the 2015 worlds.

What’s more encouraging, Denise feels she could and should have medalled at the world championships, and she’ll learn from that experience.

Denise is the undisputed top Irish lightweight women’s rower right now and is in pole position to form a lightweight double – an Olympic class boat – for the 2020 Olympics. With qualification for the Olympics on offer in 2019, she’ll hope to continue on her upward trajectory this year.

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