When Róisin O’Sullivan held aloft the O’Connor Cup in March of 2012, UCC’s first in 22-years, the expectation was the Western Road nursery would enjoy a prolonged stay at the summit of third-level ladies football.
UCC returned to finals weekend the following spring and, bolstered by the addition of multi All-Ireland winning Cork footballer Valerie Mulcahy to their ranks, were widely fancied to retain their title. Underdogs Queens netted a last-minute goal to spring a major upset.
The semi-final hurdle again tripped up UCC last March, eventual champions UL scoring a two-point win.
Manager Shane Ronayne, orchestrator of the 2012 success, believes this current crop is the strongest UCC team of recent years. There’s been no talk of adding to the trophy cabinet this weekend, however. Recent history has been too unkind to allow the mind wander.
“There was an expectation we would push on after making the breakthrough in 2012,” reflects Ronayne.
“A lot of the team were still there the following year. We were bitterly disappointed to lose to QUB in extra-time in the semi-final. What the O’Connor Cup does teach you is that irrespective of how many players you carry over from the previous year and irrespective of how successful you are the previous year, each O’Connor Cup is different, each competition takes on a life of its own. The past counts for very little at third-level. You can’t rely on the past.
“I remember Valerie Mulcahy, who played with us in 2013, telling the group that when she won an O’Connor Cup with UL they were able to call on their entire winning team the following spring and yet failed to string back-to-back titles.
“Our squad is the strongest we have had on paper in recent years, but that guarantees nothing. One encouraging sign is that the unity and sprit which got us over the line in 2012 is very much evident in this group.”
He added: “The 2012 team was older and had been around the block more often. This team has more a younger sprinkling of players, a lot of first years are involved.
“In 2012, the team was made up of predominantly club players. On Friday, we will have 11 inter-county players lining out against DCU. Added to that, we have four survivors from three years ago — Lydia Williams (Inch Rovers), Aine O’Leary (Clonakilty), Orlagh Farmer (Midleton) and our captain Alison Taylor (Laois).”
Ronayne can also call on Kerry senior Megan O’Connell and Cork All-Ireland winning trio Doireann O’Sullivan, Vera Foley and Roisin Phelan. Such experience will be crucial if the Cork university are to reverse the 26-point hammering served up by DCU in their league meeting before Christmas.
“26 points is some margin to try and turnaround,” continues Ronayne.
“They have Gregory McGonigle looking after them, Dublin footballer Jonny Copper is also lending a hand. You look at their team and you see names like Lindsay Peat, Sarah Rowe, Laura McEnaney and Brid O’Sullivan, that quickly brings home the challenge we are facing.
“We were comfortable enough in topping our group, although we were a small bit disappointed that we allowed NUIG get so close in the final group game. Perhaps that was the wake-up call we needed going into the weekend because certainly ours was the easier of the two groups.
“It has been noticeable the difference in intensity and attitude at training the past fortnight. The girls are determined to make a big impact this weekend.”
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