Last Wednesday, our girls football team played against an outstanding Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamha team in the Corn Neasáin semi-final. It was a highly competitive, intense game between two brilliant teams and Gaelscoil just edged it overall in the end. However, we limited them to only four scores in the whole match which speaks to exactly how difficult our defense was to break down even for the talented footballers of Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna. The girls were so disappointed after the match but they really should be so proud of what they have achieved this year and how they have performed. They proved to be the top team in Clondalkin and are the first girls team to reach a Cup semi-final since I have been at the school (and they achieved this whilst playing in a higher division than they normally would have been). This is a particularly special group of players. I have never worked with such a determined and enthusiastic bunch. Indeed, ever since they were in Third Class (or even before that), they would literally be begging me for more training. If they had their way, they would have been training at every small break and every big break on every day! They have a wonderful team spirit and due to the fact that they have put in such a massive effort (not just this year but in the pre covid years too), I think each and every one of the players deserves a special mention of thanks in this tribute. Bear in mind, we have 29 players on the panel so it may be a long read!!
Jessica was our goalkeeper for most of the campaign. Even though Jessica is relatively inexperienced in this position, she has been so eager to learn and improve. She has a great catch and is a tremendous shot-stopper and indeed has made a number of superb saves this year. Above all, Jessica is someone I would point younger players to as an example of how to approach a sport with a willingness to learn and a positive attitude. Hopefully, Jessica feels inspired now to continue to play GAA once she moves on to secondary school.
Amelia was our vice captain this year and what a leader she is! When the going gets tough that's when you will see Amelia at her very best. Indeed, she was easily one of the best players on the pitch against Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna which is no mean feat. She is a brave and tenacious defender but she is also a thinking player and a problem solver. She senses danger like no other and instinctively knows what spaces to cover when other defenders get pulled out of position. In fact, given her tactical prowess, after what I predict will be a long and successful playing career for Amelia, I think she is destined to have an equally long and successful career in management! I just hope she doesn't take the Sruleen job any time soon!
At full back, Ellie has been an absolute powerhouse! Ellie lives and breathes GAA and what a player she is! It has been a joy to behold Ellie routinely plucking those high balls out of the sky and then charging out of defense on a typically powerful solo run. It doesn't matter how many players are in front of her, she can't be stopped! Ellie never waits for the ball to come to her, she attacks it and grabs it and sets a great example for all the players about how you should approach the game. As accomplished a player that she already is, she is always looking to improve. Above all, she has been one of our best leaders and I've no doubt that Ellie is going to achieve great things in this sport! I also want to give a special tribute to Ellie and her sister Ciara because they have showed incredible courage given the difficult year that they have had and they truly are an inspiration to us all.
Emma is one of the select members of the 'Fantastic Four' from Fourth Class who forced her way on to the first team off the back of some exceptional performances in training and then the subsequent matches. I have honestly never seen any player improve as rapidly as Emma in such a short space of time but maybe I shouldn't be surprised because she just has so much talent. She also never waits for the ball to come to her and can catch any ball no matter how awkwardly it's coming at her. And her decision-making has been near perfect in all the matches which is so impressive for someone so young. Perhaps, the biggest compliment I can give to Emma is that she reminds me of a young Debbie and I believe she is another girl with the potential to go very far in this sport! She is certainly going to be absolutely central to our school team's efforts for the next two years!
Unfortunately, Sophia missed out on the semi-final due to illness and I have to say that she was a massive loss for us. Her performances this year have been simply brilliant. The intensity and sheer energy she brings to every performance sets the standard for what every player should be striving for. She is very comfortable in possession and tirelessly makes herself available for passes when other players are under pressure. But perhaps her greatest strength is her anticipation! Sophia knows where the opposing players are going to kick the ball before they even seem to know themselves and that's why she is always out in front for the ball! Sophia has been playing for Towers for a long time now and though we will really miss her next year, I expect her to continue to excel for her club for many years to come!
Zara is without doubt one of our most dynamic players. Even though she primarily plays in the forwards for her club, we brought her back in defense in order to benefit from her lightning speed! She is strong, determined and as tough as they come and her desire to win is second to none. Indeed, she produced her finest performances when the team needed her most against the two best teams we have played : Clonburris and Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna. She is one of the best tacklers in defense that we have but when she plays up front, she has this uncanny ability to get her shot off before the opposing players even realize that the ball is in her hands which makes her so hard to mark. That's what we love about Zara - she plays with a sense of urgency that can't be coached - it's natural. Zara will be absolutely integral to our plans for next year!
Alyssa is a superstar - plain and simple! She has all the attributes that you look for in a footballer : skill, intelligence, work-rate, athleticism and above all, heart! When you see someone so young consistently having such a meaningful impact in matches against much older players, you know that you are dealing with an outstanding talent. Time and time again, when under the cosh against Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna, Alyssa made timely interceptions and brave blocks. She also provided Ava with some beautifully precise passes over the whole campaign. Regarding this sport, Alyssa is very ambitious. Indeed, the first thing she ever said to me in school way back when she was in Junior Infants was 'I play football', to which I can now reply 'Yes, you do Alyssa and you're going all the way to the top'!
And what can we say about our captain, Debbie? We've never had a player like her - a one of a kind! Having a player of Debbie's stature on our team just fills all the other girls with confidence. She really is the ultimate warrior! Ever since she was coming to training in second class, she was already fearlessly doing diving blocks before she was even coached how to do a block! She is blessed with explosive athleticism but it's her competitive drive which sets her apart. I think the prevailing sentiment from spectators and coaches from all the schools that we have played was 'how do you get past her?' The answer is 'you don't'! You just have to try and stay away because if the ball is anywhere near her, she is getting it! Debbie is passionate about this sport and even though it's sad that we won't have the pleasure of seeing her play anymore for Sruleen next year, there is no doubt she will go on to achieve amazing things in this game and I will be following her career closely.
Sarah is just a gifted athlete really and a wonderful footballer. She has been absolutely outstanding for us in midfield in every game this year and one of the primary reasons why we have been able to dominate so many matches. She has a tremendous engine and works tirelessly for the team helping out in both defense and attack. She covers every blade of grass! When she embarks on one of her trademark solo runs, she is so hard to stop because she is just so incredibly fast and powerful! I think Sarah is destined for greatness in her sporting life and knowing that we still have Sarah in the school come September, fills us with a lot of confidence about what we could potentially achieve in next year's competition.
Joanna has been a revelation this year and formed a formidable midfield partnership with Sarah. In every match she plays, she is always one of the best players on the field. She is strong, athletic and above all a great battler and she never gives up until the end. Some of her high catches have been fantastic and she has also chipped in with some outstanding scores this year from midfield. All the younger players really look up to Joanna and it's been really pleasing to see how she has developed into such a brilliant player over the years and I hope she keeps building on this progress and continues to play Gaa for her club and also in Secondary school because I don't think there is any limit to what she can achieve.
In attack, Ciara is a real 'player's player'. She plays with an intelligence and maturity way beyond her years. She can do everything : she's accurate, a strong ball carrier, a steely competitor and has superb hands but perhaps what sets her apart is her vision as she is always looking to open up defenses with her sublime kick passes. Ciara loves a challenge and is very much a big game player as she proved to be one of our best players in that high level, high intensity semi-final. She is also another girl that could well be destined for a career in management given that she spends more time discussing tactics at lunch breaks than she does eating her lunch! Being a member of the 'Fantastic Four', we are really lucky to have a player of Ciara's talent representing us for the next two years and when all is said and done, I believe she will be remembered as one of our best ever players!
At centre forward, Holly is quite simply as natural a talent as you are going to find. This is probably why she has been on the starting team since Fourth Class and indeed she scored a wonderful goal in Croke Park in the final in 2019! If you ever wanted to show someone who has never seen Gaelic Football how skillful a game it is, I would show them a highlight reel of Holly's best moments : her high catches, deceptive side-steps , dummy solos (she never gets blocked!) and precise passes. The fact that she is as good as she is and doesn't even play for a club just speaks to exactly how natural her talent is. I really hope that Holly will continue to play GAA in secondary school and maybe one day she will feel compelled to join a club again - any club would be extremely lucky to have her!
As for Ava (our youngest player), well.... I think the phrase 'worth the price of admission alone' seems apt! Special talents like Ava don't come along very often so it has been our privilege to witness her brilliance over the course of this campaign. Ava produced so many 'WOW' moments this year that the same question kept popping up from spectators on the sidelines : 'Who is this girl?!' No team could handle Ava as she whizzed through (and under) defenses soloing at full speed before inevitably sticking the ball over the bar. We also must emphasize how brave she is! She never shies away from a tackle. Ava was very disappointed that she didn't get to play in Croke Park this year but maybe if she continues to love the game, she will be lucky enough to play there one day or maybe the more appropriate way to put it is that perhaps Croke Park will be lucky enough to see Ava!
And now for the sisterly duo of Lucy and Molly! Lucy, first and foremost, is a bit of a soccer prodigy but make no mistake, she is a very skillful Gaelic footballer too. When Lucy unleashes a rocket of a shot with that trusty left foot of hers, it is quite literally unstoppable! Lucy has also scored some epic points this year and has been one of our top scorers. She is also more than capable of turning provider and there have been moments where she has played beautiful long passes across the field to put one of our other forwards through on goals. And the good news is that we have her next year too for both our GAA team and our soccer team so this gives us even more reason to be optimistic! Lucy belongs to one of our sportiest families at the school and her sister Molly was also a really important player for us this year. Molly loves her GAA and has blossomed into a fine young player. Time and time again, she popped up for important scores and there is no better girl to pounce on a rebound or loose ball and stick it in the net than Molly (as she proved against Clonburris -scoring both our goals on the day). Molly's enthusiasm for the game is infectious and she will be an essential part of our plans next year. I also have no doubt that she is going to be a key player for Towers in the coming years!
Kiana is a very feisty competitor indeed! She loves nothing more than being in the heat of a real battle out there. She always plays with her heart on her sleeve and is a very tricky player to mark. Once she has possession, it's really difficult to dispossess her as she has superb close control and can twist and turn defenders inside out to the point of making them dizzy. And of course, she has also been one of our main contributors to the scoreboard this year. Kiana is a big personality in this team and her drive and will to win rubs off on all the younger players too. I'm looking forward to following her career after she moves on to secondary school next year because this is only the beginning for Kiana.
Molly McHugh has probably been our most versatile player of all! She is the only one of our players to have played in goals, in defense and in attack during the course of the whole campaign. Indeed, she has made some great clearances in goals and scored a couple of superb points when she has been in attack. She reads the game really well and has a great instinct for placing herself in the right place at the right time. Molly has such a positive attitude and is a real team player - indeed she encapsulates the spirit of what the whole team is all about! I expect she will be a Towers star for many years to come!
Cara is another girl who has applied herself so well. She does not have the same experience of playing as some of the other girls but she is still one of the best high catchers we have! Her attitude has always been brilliant. Indeed, back in Fourth Class, she was always one of the main girls pushing for more training at lunch breaks. Her great attitude is the reason we made her captain against Scoil Íde. She is also really brave and will charge out towards the ball with no fear of getting hurt. Cara's speciality is horse riding but I still think she has a lot of potential in this sport so I hope she considers pursuing it further in future years!
Miriam is just a brilliant personality to have on any squad. She makes everyone laugh and helps create a really fun atmosphere at training. But make no mistake, on the pitch she is all business. Nobody wants to mark Miriam at training because they know they won't be getting any ball easily. Indeed, that's why I kept Miriam away from Cara at training because the one time they did mark each other, neither of them would hold back to the point that I was worried one of them could get injured. Miriam is really, really strong! If there is ever a time that the ball is on the ground with a group of players all competing to pick it up, Miriam would be my bet to emerge from the huddle with it!
Amber is another girl who has always given her best at training and she should be really proud of her efforts this year. She has improved so much and I think a lot of the other girls could learn from her because she is very unselfish in possession and will always pass it to another player if they are in a better position. I can't overstate how great a team player she is. She is also very reliable in both her catching and her shooting. Like Miriam, she also adds a great sense of fun to training and she is really well respected by all her teammates.
Abbie Keirns has been on the squad since 2019 and indeed was part of the team who played the shield final in Croke Park that year. She is a really intelligent player who has great positional sense and is one of the best player-markers we have in the squad. She also has an uncanny ability to make last ditch blocks which are always inspirational for any team. I hope that Abbie considers playing more GAA in the future because I think this is a game she has a lot of talent for and I know she is very highly rated by her peers.
Abbie Kirwan is a player who I firmly believe has the potential to be one of the best players in the school. Unfortunately, she got injured just when the competition started and we missed her a lot! She is a true talent who is blessed with serious pace. I'm delighted that she is back playing GAA with Towers because she is going to be so important to our team. I really believe that she can be a difference maker for us come September!
Ella is another one of out Sixth Class stars that we will be saying goodbye to at the end of the year but we really appreciate the effort that she has given us throughout the campaign. She is a really sharp shooter and is one of our most accurate players. In fact, when we used to have shooting competitions back in Third and Fourth Class, nobody won those competitions as often as Ella. She was also pretty good at the penalties! Ella got a few lovely scores for the senior team this year too and I would love if this experience inspires Ella to pursue playing more Gaa in the future.
Magdalena's attitude has been exceptional all year. She always gives 100% in both training and matches. She is another one of our players who has spent some time in goals and hasn't put a foot wrong when she has been called upon in that position. She is also a really tough defender and very few forwards have been able to get past her. All in all, she has been really steady and reliable when she has been called upon and deserves great credit for how she has applied herself this year.
Gloria is another one of our Fifth Class players who is going to be massively important for us next year. She has great strength and is naturally athletic but above all is a brilliant tackler. Indeed, she is a player that all the other players have complete trust in because they recognize how consistently great she has been in all our matches. We would also love for Gloria to join a GAA club to develop the talent that she so clearly possesses.
Siena just loves her GAA! She is our only Lucan Sarsfields player and it has been very heart-warming to see her develop into the strong player that she has become. Her catching is superb now and she always plays from the front providing a much needed outlet for the backs as they look to send the ball into the forwards. She links up the play really well and rarely gets caught out in possession. Siena is really passionate about the game and I expect her to continue on her positive trajectory as a player. Lucan Sarsfields are very lucky to have her!
Sophia-Maria is a player who doesn't have much experience but we really hope she feels encouraged by the progress she has made in such a short space of time. She possesses great strength, is brave and has competed really well every time she has had the chance against much more experienced players. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the best is yet to come for Sophia-Maria and we really look forward to working with her next year.
Ellie Toolen is another player who does not have much experience but she forced her way onto the squad through sheer hard work and determination. Ellie always looks to make the right decision when in possession and she has also made some great and brave catches this year. Ellie has a fantastic attitude and she will always give you her very best effort and her enthusiasm for training this year has been a breath of fresh air. I am really looking forward to having her back at training again next year.
Last but most certainly not least is Ellie's older sister, Frances. If I could pick one aspect of Frances's game that has really stood out this year, it's her overhead catch! She also has great anticipation and has won back possession for us with superb interceptions on numerous occasions. However, the reason I left Frances until last is because she provided me with my favorite moment of the whole campaign. After the semi-final when so many of our players were so upset, I spotted Frances unselfishly going around to the disappointed players trying to console them. I'm sure she was also very disappointed but the fact that she put others before herself just speaks to how caring a young girl she is and sometimes these are the moments in sport that live longer in the memory!
Like I said before, we had 29 players on our squad and I understand that many of the players didn't get as much game time as they would have liked but the reason this tribute is so long is to demonstrate just how valued and important every player on the squad has been to us. The competition for places was really intense and honestly, I think that the 14 players who were not on the starting team would probably have beaten many of the starting teams that we have had in previous years. We will be saying goodbye to some truly outstanding players this year and we thank them for their commitment and wish them luck in their future playing endeavours. Maybe we might even have a future Dublin star on our hands! We also have a number of outstanding talents still with us for next year and a few other great young players like Hannah, Ella, Adriana, Amber, Shona and Ella Fleur to add to the squad. I would like to thank Ms. O' Donovan and Ms. Reynolds for all their help this year. I think it is fair to say that all three of us have been really invested in this group of players and both Ms. O'Donovan and Ms. Reynolds are very passionate about their GAA so they have been very helpful both for their encouragement of the girls and for their tactical insights! Indeed, Mr Kelly was also regularly asking what time their matches were at because he was so eager to see them play! Mr. Stevenson has not been in a position to help out with training this year but he was very unselfish in giving up his time to set up the goals and line the pitches for games. Finally, we want to thank the parents and grandparents who have been so patient and supportive of the girls all throughout the campaign. We know that not everyone lives close to the school and have had to wait back after school for training sessions and we want to assure you that these sacrifices do not go unnoticed. We have a really dedicated group of boys and girls in the school and the main goal of all this training is that the children develop a love for the game and go on to enjoy playing it for many years right up into adulthood! The competitions will actually start again this September (not too long to wait) so hopefully we will see you all then as we give it another crack to try and get to Croker!