Last Thursday, our girls football team played against an outstanding Gaelscoil Naomh Phádraig team in the Corn Neasáin semi-final. It was a really intense, high quality match between two brilliant teams but unfortunately the luck was not on our side as we lost by the heart-breaking margin of just a single point in a scoreline of 4-4 to 3-6. The girls were absolutely devastated after the match but they should be so proud of their performance and the fighting spirit they showed. They conceded two early goals which put them under pressure straight away but these girls have incredible character (as the Gaelscoil's principal, Liam Walsh, observed) and they just refused to give up! They battled back from 9 points down at half time as they drove relentlessly at the Gaelscoil defence who admittedly defended valiantly but I'm sure were very relieved to hear the final whistle! It is a particularly tough loss to take as so many of these girls also lost out in a really close battle in the semi-final last year (to a team who then won their final comfortably) and it feels so unfair that they won't get to play in Croke Park but this is sport and these girls have plenty of resilience and I have no doubt they will bounce back! All their hard work and dedication has resulted in them becoming outstanding young players who have very bright futures ahead of them in this sport. I think it's only right that 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!
Sophia ended up being our goalkeeper this year and she pretty much played the role perfectly! Sophia is actually a really strong outfield player but the goalkeeper is such a crucial position that you really need one of your best players to play in it and Sophia selflessly accepted that role for the team this year. She is very secure under the high ball and her concentration never wavers as she is always so alert to come out and claim short balls and launch powerful clearances up the field. Her kick-outs were also excellent. Sophia is deservedly highly rated by her team-mates and we were very lucky to have a player of her pedigree as our last line of defense! Hopefully, she will consider joining her Sruleen team-mates with Round Towers some time in the future.
If I were to pick out one player from the whole squad as an example of what you can achieve if you work hard, have the right attitude and stay determined, it would have to be Ellie Toolen. Last year, Ellie was a sub on a really strong panel and if the truth be told, she did not get much game time. However, Ellie joined Round Towers, dedicated herself to improving her game and in the space of six months, transformed herself into the brilliant defender she is today. Ellie was probably our best 'player-marker' throughout the whole campaign which is why we often switched her onto the opposing team's best inside forward and none of them were able to get the better of her! Her catching and decision making has also been of the highest quality and I know for a fact that her crucial contribution this year has been really appreciated by her team-mates!
And what can we say about our full back, Emma? WHAT A PLAYER! Emma is strong, aggressive, fast, fearless and feisty! She is as steely a competitor as they come but is also an exceptional talent and in my opinion is as good as any player of her age in the whole county! Emma produced so many inspirational moments for the team this year whether it be by leaping up towards a high ball and making a breath-taking high catch or charging out of defense and embarking on one of her trademark, crowd-pleasing solo runs! The younger girls really look up to Emma and I am sure they are as excited as we are about the fact that Emma will still be with us next year and I've no doubt she will be as determined as ever to give it one last crack at trying to get to Croker!
Niamh is in Sixth Class but this is actually the first year that she has tried out for the GAA team and we couldn't be any prouder of her for how she has performed. She may lack experience but she certainly doesn't lack fighting spirit! She is as tenacious a defender as they come who will always give you 100%. But make no mistake, she has a natural talent for the sport too. You don't make the starting 15 of a team as strong as ours and more than hold your own in a high quality semi-final with only 2 months of training under your belt without having some natural talent for this sport!! So hopefully Niamh will consider building on her progress and maybe join Round Towers as I think she still has so much more to offer!
I can't stress enough how highly I regard Abbie as a player and sometimes I wonder if she even realizes how good she is herself! She is blessed with incredible speed, she has a great pair of hands, she can solo at full speed and she was even casually providing players with pin-point passes with her bad foot in the semi-final. She might also have been the single biggest factor in our second half come-back against Gaelscoil, as when we had to gamble and push Ellie and Alyssa further forward, she did an incredible player-marking job on Gaelscoil's best player! Above all, what was most heart-warming to see from Abbie this year was how much she battled. She really wanted to help the team get to Croker so badly! And I hope this experience inspires her to keep improving herself with Towers because I truly believe she can go really far in this sport!
Alyssa is a special player! She is like the 'Pirlo' of Gaelic Football! She plays with an intelligence that most adult players would be envious of, including plenty who play at the highest level! She has phenomenal vision and always seems to be able to make the right decision even when she is under extreme pressure! Her interception count must also be through the roof due to her ability to know where opposing players are going to kick the ball before they even know themselves. And leaving aside the fact that she is technically so skilled, she is also blessed with an exceptional temperament so she really does have everything! Whether she ultimately ends up pursuing soccer or GAA (and hopefully she will play both for a long time), I am confident that she is going to be competing at the highest level when she grows up!
Gloria is the type of defender that every good team needs! She is a vigilant marker, brilliant tackler and it's very, very difficult to get the ball past her! She also possesses the rare ability to catch a high ball over her head on the run! It has been really pleasing to see how Gloria has applied herself over the past two campaigns. She has been so committed to the team and she has a wonderful attitude, on and off the pitch. She also seems to really enjoy the camaraderie of being part of a team so hopefully Gloria has caught the bug now and I really hope she decides to join her friends at Towers or any GAA club because any defense would be strengthened by having the likes of Gloria in it!
At midfield, Sarah has been our joint vice captain this year and what a leader she has been! She is prepared to shoulder so much more responsibility than is reasonable and covers every blade of grass. She's a unique player that is capable of single-handedly dominating a match. She has ridiculous speed, stamina, strength, superb ball control and when she gets the opportunity to charge forward on a solo run, there is no stopping her as she has proved with some of the wonderful goals she has scored this year including that crucial goal against Gaelscoil when we really needed her. She is also a great personality to have on a team because she makes training sessions fun and is always making the other girls laugh. She even loves to crack jokes during serious managerial speeches but we can forgive her for that! We're going to find it so hard to replace a player like Sarah next year and we'll miss her a lot but given her athletic gifts and footballing talent, the sky is the limit for what she can achieve in this sport for years to come!
And what can we say about our captain, Ellie? She is so passionate about this sport and an absolute master of her craft! Her overhead catching is an awesome sight to behold and how she manages to keep control of the ball when she is soloing with 3 or 4 players trying to tackle her boggles the mind. She reminds me of her brother Jack (a former pupil who scored 2-13 in a final in Croke Park, no less) in that regard. She is also deadly accurate and never shirks responsibility as she demonstrated by stepping up to slot over those crucial pressure frees in our last few matches. Indeed, Ellie is so good that even the opposing manager from Gaelscoil admitted that she was 'petrified' every time Ellie got her hands on the ball! But more than anything, Ellie is the ultimate role model for all the younger girls! She understands that to achieve excellence you have to work hard at improving your game, she is encouraging to her team-mates, she wins with class (always complimentary to the losing opponents), loses with grace (wishing the winners the best of luck in the final) and there isn't a player alive that wouldn't get fired up by her inspirational pre-match speeches! Thank you Ellie for being the perfect leader of this wonderful group of girls!
We move to the forward line now and we have to start with Molly because she has given everything she has to the cause this year! First and foremost, I have to acknowledge how brilliant a player she is! She has been one of our top scorers from the last two campaigns and she has pretty much dominated her position at wing-forward in every match she has played in this campaign. Molly is a really powerful and direct player and it is very difficult for defenses to deal with her when she is charging forward on a solo run. She was devastated after the semi-final but she should be so proud of how she battled so hard for the team. She really stood up and was counted in that second half when we needed our top players to lead the charge! I also really appreciate how kind and encouraging she has been to the younger girls. Molly loves her GAA and I have no doubt she is going to be a massive asset to Round Towers for many years to come!
As for Ciara, what a talent! For her to be so nervous before the semi-final but to still then produce that masterclass of a performance just speaks to how much this girl is born for the big stage! 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going' is certainly a phrase that applies to Ciara! She is such a clever player - she always knows where the ball is going and takes up the perfect position and she always makes the right decisions when in possession. But above all, Ciara is all heart! My lasting memory of this semi-final will be of Ciara chasing after a Gaelscoil player half the length of the field late in the second half to the point where she collapsed with exhaustion! You can't coach that kind of courage! Ciara thinks deeply about GAA and is absolutely destined for a career in management some day and to be honest, I'm a little worried that she wants the Sruleen job next year! But hopefully she will be content with leading our troops on the pitch to have one last crack at Croker in her final year!
Rhia is another one of our Towers stars but unfortunately she missed a lot of this year's campaign due to a hand injury. But she was there for us in the vital quarter-final and semi-final and absolutely worked her socks off for the team! If I could pick out the most impressive aspect of Rhia's game, it would be her speed! She is a superb link-up player and tirelessly makes herself available for passes from our team-mates when they are under pressure. Rhia is also a fantastic personality to have on a team because she brings so much enthusiasm and positivity that really rubs off on the rest of her team-mates. She's like Ireland's answer to Mr. Motivator! Thankfully, Rhia is still only in Fifth because I expect her to be a very important player for our team next year!
Adriana is another player who is relatively new to GAA but in my opinion, she has all the attributes required to excel at this sport once she gains the necessary experience. She is fast, athletic and has superb eye-hand co-ordination. She has been improving at such a fast pace that it makes us very excited about how good she can be this time next year. I have always had great belief in Adriana's talent so I was delighted to hear that she joined Round Towers earlier this year. She has a great attitude and I hope the experience of playing in such high-intensity matches makes her hungry for more! Adriana is also an outstanding gymnast so I hope we all get the opportunity to see her skills as a gymnast in the school over the next couple of years!
At full forward, Zara was our joint vice captain this year and she has set a wonderful example to the younger girls of how to conduct yourself in training and in matches. She is so passionate about and dedicated to this sport and it was really hard seeing how devastated she was after the semi-final. But she really should be nothing but proud of what she has achieved. She has been one of our most outstanding young sportswomen and she has already won a gold medal for the school at the Santry games! Zara has been a goal machine for us this year - I can't remember the last match she played where she didn't get at least 1 goal! As soon as she gets her hands on the ball in a dangerous area, it doesn't matter how many players are tackling her, she is incredibly hard to dispossess and she always somehow finds a way to get her shot off under extreme pressure. She also tackles tenaciously and blocks bravely and has a will to win that all champions require. I firmly believe that this is just the beginning for Zara!
And rounding off our starting team is Lucy (also known as 'Prodigy' to her fans)! Lucy is a very skillful player! While her most striking attribute may be that lethal left foot of hers, she is also very adept at kicking accurately with her right foot which is a skill all ambitious young players should be striving to master. Though, Lucy has made a huge contribution to the scoreboard this year, she is never selfish in possession and is always willing to provide precise passes to team-mates who are in better positions. Indeed, Lucy demonstrated exactly how great a team player she is when she produced a magnificent second half performance in the semi-final when she was asked to play a position she has never played in before - left half back! Lucy is also a really talented soccer player and I can't think of a more deserving girl to captain the school team when the soccer competitions start up in a few months time!
Amber would have been on our starting team but she was so unlucky to get injured and miss the rest of the GAA season. Amber is a very calm and composed player with a great pair of hands which is why we all had complete trust in her when she was playing in goals. However, she is one of our most versatile players and was a strong option for us both in defense and attack. We definitely could have done with her on the pitch against Gaelscoil. Even though Amber must have been so disappointed that she wasn't able to play in these big matches , she was so supportive to the girls and we really appreciate that. I also hear that Amber had been playing really well for Towers before she got injured so I hope she will be back doing what she loves again soon!
Aoife has been coming out to training since last year and has always been willing to get stuck in. She didn't get much game time this year but we really think that she has great potential. She is naturally fast, super-fit, thinks quickly on her feet and has good catching. She will also never shy away from a tackle! The only thing she lacks now is experience but I hope her experience with the school team might lead her to considering joining Round Towers because the football is definitely in her. She is a great team player and that was evident by the fact that even though she didn't get game time in the semi-final she was so disappointed for the team. But her time will come!
The rest of our squad players are from Third and Fourth Class so they will not be receiving as comprehensive a write-up because there will be plenty to say about these great talents in the coming years but they still deserve a mention for their valuable contributions.
Ella Fleur is an exceptional athletic talent and a player with massive potential. She is fearless and was more than capable of mixing it with the older girls when she was called upon this year and she will be central to our plans next year. Shona lives and breathes Gaa and she always comes to training with a smile on her face. She has a great pair of hands and an accurate shot and I have feeling she will be making plenty of contributions to the scoreboard next year! Kaitlyn hasn't been playing GAA for that long but she is very driven and is improving rapidly. I see a determination in her which reminds me of her cousins and I have no doubt she will be working hard on her game over the next year. I am confident that she will be ready to make the step up to the starting team in Fifth Class. Emi also has bags of talent and has a very accurate left foot. Her soloing is already of a high quality and I see her as a very versatile player who could potentially excel in a number of different positions. Ayda is a little pocket rocket and a very crafty corner forward. If she gets a chance at goal, she will surely take it and indeed she has taken some lovely scores this campaign too. This is Ella's first year playing Gaelic but she is naturally very sporty girl so it hasn't taken her long to adapt to this new sport. Her passion and enthusiasm is also infectious and I look forward to seeing how she can develop further in the next few years!
As for the Third Class girls, we originally only called on them to increase the numbers at training but they were so impressive that we felt that they really deserved their place on the panel. Molly is the youngest girl on the panel but she is as brave as they come and really, really strong for her age. She charges out of defense like Emma (who she admires a lot) and her skill level is already very high. She has also really impressed the older girls this year! Heidi is a tough cookie and has also been well able to mix it with the older girls. She loves being in the thick of the action and she will run all day. In fact, she reminds me of a young Sarah (which is not to suggest that Sarah is over the hill or anything like that!) Lacey is definitely going to be our future sharp-shooter! She is just a natural at this sport and it is scary to think how good she will end up being by the time she gets to Sixth Class! Sadie has been so excited about being involved this year- it's been lovely to see how enthusiastic she is. But she has picked up the skills really quickly and she is going to be one of our top players when she gets to Fifth and Sixth! Ria is a powerhouse of a player! She is the perfect combination of speed and strength and I am already visualising her as that centre-half back who just doesn't let anything get past her! As for Keeva, she is a special talent! Her first touch is just incredible and she has an ability to field high balls that reminds me of our captain, Ellie! So the future is certainly bright for our girls and I hope this experience provides them with even more motivation to keep working hard at developing their skills!
We will be saying goodbye to some truly outstanding players next June 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! Of course, for now, there will still be plenty more sport here in the school for the girls to take part in and I am sure they will all be eager to compete again soon. I would like to thank Ms. O' Donovan and Ms. Reynolds for all their help over the past 2 months. They were also so 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! Ms. O'Donovan has also done a lot of selfless organising behind the scenes! Mr Kelly was also really passionate about this team and indeed, he never missed a match!
We also 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. The incredible support that you gave the girls in the semi-final is what it's all about!
Finally, I want to wish the best of luck to our brilliant boys team who made it to the final in Croke Park which will be played at 11am this coming Friday! They will also be getting their own well deserved write-up on the blog after it is all over for them! There was always a chance that one of our boys or girls teams would get to the final and the other wouldn't but I want to stress that we are equally proud of both teams. It is very important to us that the boys and girls have great solidarity with
each other so we have decided that the girls team should travel to the match on the same bus as the boys team! You are all very welcome to come up to Croker and support the boys and hopefully we can come back to Sruleen with the Corn Oideachas cup!