Whether big mileage has finally caught up with five-in-a-row chasing Glanmire is one of the seductive sub-plot for tomorrow’s Women’s Cup final at the National Arena. And whether there’s a handover of power to DCU Mercy in the offing or not, writes Tony Leen.
It’s beyond 35 years ago, but it still frames every five-in-a-row sporting jibe in this country. Pin or not, it’s a grenade primed for detonation under the hood of any side with history in their sights.
“I presume you’ve heard of Seamus Darby,” someone lobbed at Mark Scannell this week.
The Glanmire women’s coach has shaken off a patchy early season, a row over the eligibility of some of his players and the landmine of knockout basketball to poise his players on the edge of something unique. A fifth national Cup win on the bounce. Whatever chance tomorrow’s Cup final opponents DCU Mercy have of taking Glanmire at the knees, hop balls won’t get it done.
“I know Darby well,” Scannell deadpanned. “But I’ve seen DCU Mercy twice this season and I looked at their roster again the other night. They’ve a lot of good players but they’ve no Seamus Darby playing for them.”
Scannell has key ingredients beyond wit at his and Glanmire’s disposal. He’s a strong courtside mentor, with a helping of attitude, who knows how to get over the line. He’s been the pre-eminent coach in the women’s game for a decade, and he has depth and players who deliver when the prize is greatest. And after a career of X’s and O’s, screens and patterns, he appreciates better than ever now that the pre-requisite for message cut- through is people skills.
Managing the group.
“Some of the girls are difficult,” he accepts. “All the great players are difficult but all they want is fair play. They want to be coached, they want to be pushed hard and every now and again they want to be bollocked out of it. And they will have a pop off the coach too.”
Scannell will never be accused of being backward at coming forwards himself. He’s occasionally confrontational himself and clashes are inevitable with high achievers in the game.
“You try to keep them private, but they do happen and you try to ensure you don’t hurt the team when they occur. If one of the players has a pop off me, sometimes I don’t take it well because it happens publicly. But usually there’s a reason for it – you’re half-wrong too. The easy thing is to sit her down (bench her) but then the team could suffer. So my attitude is we deal with it after the game.”
Since he kicked off a hat-trick of Glanmire cup wins in 2007, Scannell’s sides have only missed out once on the January jamboree in Tallaght. He’s built several winning sides and enjoyed the thrill of watching Michelle Fahy, Marie Breen, Gráinne and Niamh Dwyer do their stuff. Claire Rockall too.
“It’s getting harder though. The most disappointing thing is the number of players you lose as a club for various reasons because you can’t keep them all happy. As a club, one of the mistakes Glanmire made three or four years ago was we probably should have had a National League Division One (second tier) team, because we had so many kids coming through. We messed up there, and I’d be the first to hold my hands up and say that. Eventually, though we get some of those players back, ones who have been away (like his daughters Jessica and Clodagh, plus Orla O’Reilly, now playing pro ball in Australia).
“It doesn’t matter how good a coach you think you are, you have to hold your hand up and say you’ve been very lucky to coach top, top players.”
Tomorrow’s women’s final should be a 40-minute billboard for the women’s game in this country. DCU Mercy are the Superleague leaders and the country’s form team. Mark Ingle is building to compete for the future, with the club also looking to annex Under 18 and U20 Cup wins this weekend.
They’ve downed Glanmire twice in the Superleague, but the Cork girls are the bluebloods of the game in this country. Whether big mileage has caught up with them is the seductive subplot for the neutral. Whether there’s a handover of power in the offing or not.
The burgeoning women’s game in Ireland exploded onto the public consciousness last summer when the country’s U18’s reached a European Championship final against Germany. A final! Five of their number will feature in tomorrow’s showpiece.
Annaliese Murphy and Louise Scannell have been staking their claim with Glanmire Superleague side this season, but everywhere Scannell looks on the opposition bench, he spies threats.
“We honestly didn’t mention the Cup final until we’d got Sunday last (IT Carlow League game) out of the way. I did some video work over the weekend on specifics, watching DCU tapes. Training Monday would have had a more substantial game plan, providing the girls with an overview of how we are going to deal with the different individuals.”
And that’s it? History comes down to one A4 page?
“We try to keep it all as basic as we can,” the coach says. “The team changes every couple of years, so with each of the four Cup victories there has been a different dimension. This year we have younger crop again, Louise, Annaliese, they bring a bit more.
“The new Americans bring something else to but the core of the team – Claire (Rockall), Grainne (Dwyer), Áine (McKenna) and Casey Grace, they’ve been there, done that. You don’t have to do too much with them, their focus is very much in this week, more than any other.
“The difference with them is that they know how to get themselves to the pitch we need.”
It’s the inevitable consequence of time that there are more doubts over Glanmire as they drive for five than there’s been at any stage since 2014. There’s been more L’s than we’re used to.
“We were getting a bit of criticism in October and November because we weren’t as sharp or as tuned in as we normally are.
“But we won the regular season last year (though lost the league final), and I was very conscious coming into this campaign not to over-emphasise the league too early. We lost a couple of games, but there was no panic.
“With the experience we have, the time to be coming right is December and into the new year.
“You want the team peaking in January. Divide the season into thirds – the first part is getting ready and you usually lose a game or two (this campaign they lost three, two of them to DCU).
“The second part is the Cup and the third bit is coming down after this weekend and pushing on then for the rest of the league. Last year we didn’t do the third part right.
“I have to keep my stuff as normal as I can. Even last Sunday against Carlow, we just said ‘play hard’ because you can’t not play a game properly.”
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