FRESH from the success of the Youths’ team, another side from the Kilkenny & District League is all set to go hunting for national glory.
This time around it’s the under-14 girls who will be proudly flying the black and amber as they search for an All-Ireland title of their own. The team will head to Galway on the June Bank Holiday weekend, ready to compete in the Gaynor Cup.
Previously run on an inter-provincial basis, this year’s competition will see Leagues going head to head in search of the spoils – and Kilkenny are heading West with nothing but glory on their minds.
“They’re really looking forward to the tournament,” team manager Berni Egan told the ’People, “but I think the big buzz is they’re going away for it – they’re hyper, they’re looking forward to it so much!”
Kilkenny will go into the tournament on a high, having already played several teams that will be in action over at NUIG. The Cats entered a competition in Bunclody recently, coming home with the spoils after beating Limerick in the final on penalties.
“They’re doing well,” the manager said. “Jenny Clifford got the Player of the Tournament award in Bunclody, scoring ten goals throughout the competition, and is just one member of a talented group.”
Kilkenny got a real feel for taking on different opposition in Bunclody. As well as Limerick, they also played Wexford North and Wexford South, Cork and Tipperary in the same tournament.
For good measure, the team also won a second competition they were involved in, scoring wins over Waterford, Cork and Nottingham Forest.
“The team started out playing soccer with their clubs at under-12 level, but came together for Kilkenny in September,” recalled Egan. “Emma Martin, a regional development officer with the FAI, came to Kilkenny and ran a series of trials, and from there we got our panel of players - the girls have been meeting once a week ever since.”
The team have been training at a few different venues in the city, from Scanlon Park to the Loreto, but they are now back at home on the new all-weather pitch at the Kilkenny & District League’s grounds in Derdimus, something which the manager feels has been a huge boost.
“The new all-weather pitch has been fantastic,” she said. “It’s a great asset to the League.”
Another asset to the local game is the number of young coaches who are coming through – three of whom have cut their teeth with this under-14 squad.
“Former Freebooters players Ben Ryan and Craig Wall, who are now with Wexford Youths in the Airtricity League, have been involved in coaching the team along with Thomastown United’s Jenny Reddy,” she said. “We also have a goalkeeping coach, Darren Doyle, who has worked with all of the inter-league teams under the FAI’s regional development officer Darren Murray.
Given that trainers are usually some years older than the under-age inter-league teams, Egan agreed that it was great for the players to have young coaches and trainers.
“They’re people the players are all familiar with,” she said. “A lot of the girls on the team go to school in the Presentation, where Jenny Reddy teaches PE and Biology. She’s someone they see everyday and can relate to, while the lads are part of the success story in Kilkenny soccer.”
Students in IT Carlow, Ryan and Wall have won national Futsal titles with their college to add to numerous awards won while playing for Freebooters, from League to Leinster Junior Cup honours. To have them coaching a young team is a real coup for Kilkenny soccer.
“The lads have come in with a good pedigree,” added Egan. “The girls have a lot of respect for them.”
And that respect has been reflected in how the girls have adapted to training together as a team.
“We have a great attendance at our training sessions every week,” she said. “The girls are always there are willing to listen to their coaches and have gelled well - now they’re not a team, they are a big group of friends.”
Made up of players from a number of different clubs, the squad has proven that women’s soccer is booming in the county.
“I’m children’s officer with the League,” said Egan. “As well two league competitions at under-12 and under-14 levels we have Soccer Sisters programmes for younger players, some of which were held over Easter. It just goes to show how girls’ soccer is becoming more and more popular all over the county.”
As well as the players, the manager also had a special word of thanks to the Kilkenny & District League, which has supported the side all throughout.
“When the girls brought home a trophy from Bunclody the League were delighted,” she said. “They had been in constant touch, ringing to find out how the penalty shoot-out was going while they were hosting the Ladies Cup final in Derdimus at the same time.
“The League have been fantastic to us,” she continued. “It’s not easy, but they have been there to help us with financial assistance whenever we’ve needed it.
“The girls sell lottery tickets which has helped to pay for their gear, such as training gear and kit but there’s always something needed – if a sponsor wanted to get involved we’d be delighted.”
Kilkenny will play Mayo, Dublin, Inishowen and Limerick County in their group at the Gaynor Cup, which will be held on the grounds of NUIG. The team will play three matches on the first day of the competition (Saturday, June 4), with their final group match on the Sunday morning.
The competition features four groups of teams, of which the top four teams will go through to the cup semi-finals, with the following four teams progressing to the Shield semi-finals on Sunday, with the finals to be held that evening.
As well as bringing home a title, the girls could also play their way into international recognition.
“The big thing for the girls is that the FAI will have scouts at this tournament in Galway,” said Egan. From what they see there they could be picking an Irish under-15 team. It could be a very big opportunity for the girls.”
And with that comes endless possibilities.
“All you have to do is look at the Irish under-17 team who did so well at the World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago,” she added. “A lot of those girls are now in America on soccer scholarships.
“It would be a great opportunity if any of our girls were spotted - we have the talent in the county, so why not?”
The Kilkenny & District League squad is made up of the following players: Niamh Delaney (Evergreen), Niamh Sheehy (Thomastown United), Aoife Cantwell (Evergreen), Holly Brennan (East End United), Kelsey Lawlor (Thomastown United), Aoife Brassil (Evergreen), Maeve Egan (Thomastown United), Ciara Phelan (Freebooters), Olivia Nolan (Evergreen), Ria Lawson (Thomastown United), Jenny Clifford (Evergreen), Kirsty Maher (Evergreen), Caitlin Skehan (Thomastown United), Roisin Breen (Evergreen), Chloe Kenna (Lions), Laura Murphy (Evergreen), Eimear Corr (Thomastown United), Orlaith Conlon (Evergreen), Rebecca Walsh (Thomastown United), Jenny O’Keeffe (Evergreen), Ally O’Keeffe (Freebooters). Management team: Berni Egan, Ben Ryan, Jenny Reddy, Craig Wall, Darren Doyle.