Steelstown boss Thomas Cusack reflects on a 'super' year
All-Ireland Club Junior Ladies' Football Championship
STEELSTOWN manager Thomas Cusack believes the heartache of losing an All-Ireland Junior Club Championship semi-final will be a driving force for the players next year as they look to build on the success of 2015.
The Derry and Ulster champions put up a brave fight in Bantry last Sunday afternoon but, in the end, came up short against the Cork and Munster champions. It was just their second defeat all year, having lost earlier in the season in a league game to Glen, who are the only other Derry side to have tasted provincial success.
"We are disappointed to lose an All-Ireland semi-final, but it has been a super year. We ended up as Ulster champions and, if you had said that at the start of the year, people would have laughed at you," said Cusack.
"That is just the second game we have lost all year and, when you put it in that sort of perspective, it is something to be proud of. We took the teams in Ulster by surprise, I think. People would have looked at us as a team from Derry and not give much regard to the standard of our football and we surprised the bigger counties. It is great for the club and great for football in Derry too."
As Cusack rightly says, when you get to the last four of a competition, you need to produce your best performance and that, unfortunately, didn't happen for Steelstown. They were still very much in the game at half-time, trailing 0-5 to 0-4, but two sin-bins early in the second-half meant they were on the back foot and Bantry did enough to win 0-10 to 0-6.
"When you are playing in an All-Ireland semi-final, you need to bring your A game with you and ours was just not there on Sunday," Cusack added.
"You have to play at the top of your game and we didn't. It was a long trip down to Cork, even with going the day before and they had a big vocal support. But every one of the girls gave their all and the battling qualities they showed, you could not have asked for more. We just did not play as I know we can."
For this young Steelstown team, whose average age is just 19, there is plenty to look forward to as they make the step up to the intermediate ranks. Cusack feels they can compete for county honours next season, with the door opening to who knows what other possibilities - but it will take hard work.
"We will sit down at our Christmas dinner and talk about next year and what it will take to progress," he said.
"It is a step up from junior to intermediate, but I think we can apply ourselves to that with some maturity and hunger. You can have the experienced players on your team to help you do that, but you need all the whole squad to make the step up.
"No-one likes to lose at any stage, but we are still Ulster champions and we reminded the girls of that after the game. Words don't bring much comfort, but if there had not been tears at the final whistle, then I would have known that they didn't care about it.
"They will remember that pain and what it is like and I think this group of girls will use that to drive them on next year."