Saturday 20 January 2018

Phelan sets out on path that Rebels have paved with gold

Cork's Roisin Phelan with Dublin's Sinead Goldrick
Cork's Roisin Phelan with Dublin's Sinead Goldrick
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

JUST how easily a teenage corner-back slotted into the greatest ladies football team of all time this season becomes quickly apparent when you meet Roisin Phelan in the flesh.

Speaking about her home club Aghada, she is quizzed about former Cork men's manager Conor Counihan and says, "Yeah, I know him quite well."

"So do we," replied one seasoned GAA reporter, only for her to bat back "so you think anyway!" without missing a beat.

The rangy 20-year-old is one of the new faces on a Cork team looking for a ninth senior All-Ireland in 10 years on Sunday.

Most of them need no introduction, not least the midfield duo of Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley who, like full-back Angela Walsh, are chasing a 14th senior medal from their dual exploits, just two weeks after another victory with the camogie team.

Eight of her experienced team-mates already have eight medals apiece but this is Phelan's first chance to win one on the field of play.

She was an unused sub when Cork snuck past Monaghan last year to continue an astonishing championship run that has seen them only beaten once - by Tyrone in the 2010 semi-finals - in the last nine years.

Cork manager Eamon Ryan says his magnificent team have endured because they originally had a group of older players who had no success, who were joined with a group of youngsters who had dominated at underage, and that both cohorts gelled perfectly.

Those youngsters are now the Rebel elders and showing the same example to rising stars like Phelan, who seems mature beyond her years.

She is a natural athlete who also played underage soccer for Midleton and Cork.

Much is made of the need for young girls to have prominent sporting role models to aspire to and, as a youngster, Phelan certainly had no shortage.

Yet she confesses to having more personal reasons for taking the GAA route.

"When I was about 15 I started to get injured because I was out every night of the week training, so I had to pick one over the other," she says.

"I don't know why I chose Gaelic football but I enjoyed the buzz more and my friends were doing it more, and that probably swayed me.

"I think I preferred the whole attitude around Gaelic games too. "I think I preferred the pace and physicality of it compared to soccer.

"Obviously you'd have recognised the (Cork) girls off TV too. Mary O'Connor used to come and train with us sometimes, and we had Angela Walsh and all the girls around."

For many, stepping into the midst of such legends would be intimidating, but not Phelan, who recalls doing it for the first time in July 2012, straight out of the minor ranks.

"You never forget that first training session. The intensity was something else. You'd have been used to the intensity at underage but not the same extent," she says.

"The girls drive themselves on like there's no tomorrow. The bond between them is unbelievable."

Backs and forwards alike have all helped her make the leap.

"I've learned from them all and they're not afraid of me making a mistake. They tell you to go for it wholeheartedly and, 'If it goes wrong we'll fix it when it happens'," she explains.

"You can't play with fear, you have to play thinking you're going to win every ball. If you don't play like that then what's the point in being there?"

A second year UCC dentistry student, Phelan takes a similar all-or-nothing attitude to her packed life.

"I'm a busy bee but we're all very busy, we all have things to do and places to be, but we wouldn't be here if we didn't want to be.

"People talk about the sacrifices we have to make but we have to think about how much we gain from it, like the friendships. We just love the whole atmosphere of it. We wouldn't be here if we didn't want it, people seem to forget that.

"Who can say this is a sacrifice!" she enthuses ahead of Sunday's final against Dublin.

"I'm going to play in Croke Park, how many can say they've done that? We can get so involved in our own little bubble that we forget that this is an incredible achievement."

Irish Independent

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