Ciara McNamara: I’d like to walk out as captain at Turner’s Cross. It’s just a Cork thing

Reigning Women’s National league champions Wexford Youths will face National Cup winners Cork City twice in the next eight days, starting with a league encounter at Ferrycarrig Park this evening. Cork centre-half Ciara McNamara was selected on the League’s Team of the Year last season.

Q: This is the eighth year of the Women’s National League. How progressive is the League now?

A: Year on year the League is definitely improving. Girls are in and out of international squads, there’s more interest from overseas in National League players. Katie McCabe went to Arsenal, Claire and Savannah McCarthy were in Glasgow. The FAI has thrown more publicity behind the league too in recent years. In the first year, people didn’t really know about the league. At Cork City, there’s definitely more people coming to our games than when I first started.

Q: Boosted in any way by coming under the umbrella of Cork City FC?

A: The merger with the men’s club has made a positive difference. That’s further recognition. We all wear the same gear, buses are sorted, just things that our management don’t have to be fretting over. Cork City have a specific team that will look after the bus, the food before games, all that sort of stuff. Bodychef in Cork are involved now and you can select from a healthy menu whereas before you just went to a hotel and ate pasta and chicken.

Now girls have a real selection. For training, we know we are in Bishopstown at a set time whereas before we might be there, but we could be somewhere else too. There’s certainty there. And those little things are actually big things.

Q: At Cork City, what’s turned things around in the past year or two?

A: This is my fifth season with Cork City and a lot of the girls are still there, so there’s continuity for starters. But it also had got the stage where we had to say ‘enough is enough’. You can’t be getting beaten every week. Claire Shine came back from Scotland last season and Amanda Budden came in. Also, the likes of Saoirse Noonan and Danielle Burke are coming of age now. It’s all beginning to click.

Q: So the next stage is to be playing in Turner’s Cross ahead of the men’s Premier Division games?

A: Definitely! Even playing before them in the Cup final last year at the Aviva Stadium was a huge thing. I’ve played at the Cross when I was younger, but the big thing is for Cork City women’s team to play there now. That’s your dream when you are growing up isn’t it? Well, it was for me.

Hopefully, with some momentum and we keep getting good results, we might play a Cup game there. One game once in a while would be a start. I’d love to walk out as captain of Cork City at the Cross. It’s one of this season’s goals for me. It’s just a Cork thing I guess, wanting to play there.

Q: The next step for you at international level is to play with the senior team?

A: I’m 21 now. Last year I went to the World Student Games with Colin Bell, the senior manager. I am involved with home-based (senior) squad training which is a step up from where I was a year ago. If I can keep my head down and keep pushing, I’ve been on standby so the next step is to be involved in a full training camp and see where that takes me in terms of the next squad.

Q: There seems to be a bit of buoyancy in the debate and coverage of women’s
football?

A: It has grown for sure. Colin (Bell) coming in too with the national team was a big thing. He’s a Champions League winner with Frankfurt, bringing that level of professionalism too, demanding more, so the girls demand more of themselves. There was over 4,000 at the World Cup qualifier in Tallaght against the Netherlands. I remember going to games and there’d be just family and friends. For a player to play in front of that sort of crowd is massive. Before, you’d be at home playing before and your mam and dad would be there.

Ciara McNamara: I’d like to walk out as captain at Turner’s Cross. It’s just a Cork thing

Q: And crowds beginning to increase in the National league?

A: Well you’re certainly starting to see faces who haven’t been around before. When I started with Cork Women’s FC, you’d have the begrudgers who almost wouldn’t want things to progress, but now those people are even rowing in behind the league and watching. More girls are coming to watch too which is key.

Q: Was soccer always your number one?

A: I’m the oldest of three, my mam worked days, my dad worked nights, and he coached a boy’s team so I was brought along to training sessions when I was three or four, kicking a ball around. In primary school in Rathpeacon, I was always the girl playing football with the boys. I played with St Mary’s til I was 12 or 13, then Wilton for a bit before my dad started a team in Holyhill, so I obviously had to return there! I joined Cork City when I was 18.

Q: Do you want to make a career out of it?

A: First of all, education is a huge thing. You can go over across the water and it’s not always what it’s made out to be. Don’t get me wrong, if someone came calling, I would definitely give it a shot, or at the very least think seriously about it. I’m in my final year of a Social Science degree at UCC, but I’ve just found out I’ve been accepted for a Masters, so that will keep me in UCC for another two years.

Q: Are you a ball-playing or no-nonsense centre-half?

A: I’d be a ball-playing centre-half and I have Maggie Duncliffe alongside me getting stuck into things. She’ll kill me for saying that! We’ve Natalie O’Brien on the other side of me at left back, so they do their bit. I’d have a bit of pace, so I drop in behind. Don’t get me wrong, I would get stuck in, I wouldn’t be leaving them hanging or anything. But the opposition would know the girls would be there!

Q: You’re third in the league, Wexford fourth. Can Cork continue this upward curve now?

A: There’s some nice young talent coming through now, like Saoirse and Danielle as I mentioned. Another girl, Hannah O’Donoghue came in this year. She’s only 17, and she is a Kerry minor footballer. Give her a couple of seasons, she’ll definitely be one to watch. A raw talent.

Ciara McNamara was selected as one of the UCC Sports Star of the Year awards for her stellar 2017 campaign which culminated in captaining Cork City to the National Cup final win. She was named on the League Team of the Year alongside colleagues Amanda Budden (keeper) and striker Claire Shine.

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