Steelstown Ladies step into the ‘lions den’ this weekend with an All Ireland Junior Club semi-final trip to west Cork to face Munster champions, Bantry Blues.
The ladies game in Cork is regarded as the best in Ireland with the county’s senior team having lifted nine out of the last 10 All Ireland senior titles, a measure of the challenge facing the Brian Ogs. Yet it is a challenge that Steelstown manager Thomas Cusack believes his players can meet head on.
“From the reports we have received about Bantry they have a mix of ages,” explained the Steelstown manager, “They have some good Under 21s and minors and a few players in the older category, so they are quite like ourselves in that regard. To be honest you can’t concentrate on the opposition in games like these. We have to play to our own strengths because neither team knows the other very well.
“What we do know is Ladies football in Cork is probably the strongest in Ireland. You only have to look at the county’s record in the All Ireland Series. They have won the last five All Ireland senior titles so we know we are facing a big challenge but Cork is a big county and after the performance I saw from our girls in the second half of the Ulster Final, I will back my players all the way.”
Steelstown will be without Ciara McGurk, their goalscorer from the Ulster final who is more than five months pregnant for the semi-final. The venue was decided on the toss of a coin and while it is not ideal, Cusack says his team will not be using it as an excuse for under-performing.
“We’re all set for what will be a huge occasion for the club. It’s not ideal that we have to travel but that’s the luck of the draw and we have to get on with it. We can’t use the venue as an excuse.
“We will have a few players missing with injury but we will still have a strong squad and the girls are capable of getting a result.”
The Bantry Blues Ladies team is a relatively recent addition to the Cork club having been founded in 2009 but their team includes a number of player with inter-county experience including Cork Under 21 players Ann Coakley, Seadna O’Sullivan and Libby Coppinger, who scored a goal the All Ireland Under 21 Final defeat to Dublin this year.
Four-time All Ireland winning Cork minor Emma Spillane is a vastly experienced midfielder and Aoife O’Driscoll, Laura O’Sullivan, Kate O’Brien and Niamh Crowley had previously won numerous All Ireland titles with Cork from Under 14 up to Minor level.
However the Cork side were fortunate to take Munster title after being forced to a replay by Tipperary club Templemore and then requiring an injury time point from Aoife O’Driscoll to force extra-time in the second game.
Going in as underdogs, Cusack believes, means there is no pressure on the Derry girls.
“We are in bonus territory now,” added the Steelstown manager, “To be honest anything after the Derry title was bonus territory so we have nothing to lose and there is no pressure on the players. They are well focused and have trained well in the build up to the game and if we can replicate the type of display we put on against O’Neill Shamrocks in the second half, we have a decent chance.
“We know we are underdogs but we have probably been underdogs in every game since we got out of Derry and we’ve managed to caused a few shocks so far, so we’re aiming for one more.”