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Three crucial goals and two massive wins in 24 hours: A special weekend for Cork's dual hero Noonan

‘I’m tired today but you forget about it with the buzz and adrenaline you have for the the next game.’

WHAT A WEEKEND to be from Cork. That’s the opening chat as Saoirse Noonan answers the phone after her sparkling individual exploits and a pair of headline-hitting performances.

noonan (1) Saoirse Noonan is a special talent. Source: SPORTSFILE.

You can almost hear her smiling. “It was really exciting for all sport down here in Cork. Everyone’s buzzing to be back playing, everyone’s buzzing to be back watching it. It’s just unfortunate that we can’t have spectators but there’s still a great buzz around.”

A Gaelic football double as both senior inter-county sides bagged dramatic wins over Munster rivals Kerry, a hurling qualifier victory and an FAI Cup semi-final success for Cork City FC Women made for a memorable two days for all involved.

For Noonan, it was a case of two huge wins recorded and three crucial goals scored, all in the space of 24 hours. Just another weekend in the life of the prodigiously talented Cork dual star.

On Saturday, the 21-year-old fired 1-2 as the Cork ladies footballers opened their TG4 All-Ireland senior championship campaign with a three-point win over the Kingdom, and she followed that masterclass up with a brace against Treaty United to send Cork City into the cup final on Sunday.

“It was a huge weekend for me,” she tells The42. “Two big, big games and not having games in so long with GAA and a semi-final with Cork City, these are the days you look forward to. You have to come out and try and win.

“These days do happen and it’s what we train year in, year out for and each week. Over the lockdown, training was so hard so this is exactly what we want. We want to be involved in these games and thankfully, I came out the right end of both of them.”

It’s always about the team, the panel, the squad. “We’re all in this together,” she notes, her modesty shining through as she’d much rather speak about that than her own contributions. 

The eight players that couldn’t travel as part of Ephie Fitzgerald’s Gaelic football panel due to Covid-19 restrictions, the subs who didn’t get a run in Tralee or in Bishopstown, the outstanding efforts of those on the field on both occasions; they all get a mention.

But it was Saoirse Noonan’s name who was trending on Twitter last night, her several moments of individual brilliance and skill that were shared wide and near.

The Nemo Rangers sharpshooter’s early goal was ultimately the difference against Kerry on Saturday, one she hammered home after good work from Áine O’Sullivan to set the Rebels up for an important opening-round win.

“Kerry came at us from the get-go,” Noonan reflects. “I don’t think we performed to our potential but it was one of those days; slippy surface, first day of championship, a lot of nerves around the team.

“At half time we regrouped and said we’d go out and play prettier football, but that didn’t really happen. We knew what we had to do and at the end of the day, it’s the winning that matters. We have to go out there and give it our all, and that’s what we did.

“We all fought for each other and played as a team and thankfully, got the result.”

No pretty football, she says, but she certainly capped the win in style with the last play of the game, her soccer skills coming in handy to put the icing on the cake just before the hooter.

“There was only about 40 seconds left,” she recalls, with a look from goalkeeper Martina O’Brien all she needed to know before it was time to dance. 

“I could hear their manager screaming out, ‘Everyone push up.’ I was the furthest Cork player up the field and I was even in our own half. It was either I’d win it or they’d go down and get another chance to score. I got a little touch on it, a flick at the side. If it went over the sideline, it could be our ball, it could be theirs. I had to kick it to the corner and try to chase it down.

“I knew it was the last seconds of the game, just to keep running. I suppose I did think about going for goal but it’s in the dying seconds and you just need to play against the clock. I put the ball over the bar, just to be safe and give ourselves that extra lead.” 

Less than 24 hours later, Noonan made it a hat-trick — or a fine 3-2 weekend tally — within 15 minutes of action for Cork City, her first goal a beautifully-taken header off the back of Éabha O’Mahony’s corner.

In typical Noonan fashion, “quality player” O’Mahony takes all the credit for this one, her excellent deliveries from set-pieces and crosses a huge asset to this high-flying City outfit.

“I was just lucky enough to be the one in the right place at the right time,” she nods. “I just knew I had to get a good leap and get a head on it because you can’t not create a good chance from a delivery like that. I was delighted it went in.”

Delighted, but slow to get up afterwards. And she explains why with a laugh: “When I connected with the ball, I thought the girl’s head caught me more. I thought she won the ball, I didn’t actually know it went in until about six of the girls were over me saying, ‘You scored!’ That made the pain go away fairly fast.”

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And it was all worth it in the end as the Women’s National League Player of the Month for September steered her side back to the FAI Cup final for the first time since their glittering 1-0 win over UCD Waves in 2017 — and for just the second time in their history.

She won’t get too far ahead of herself just yet with the remainder of the league to play first, but excitement is certainly already building ahead of the standalone Tallaght Stadium showpiece on 12 December.

“We spoke a lot about 2017 and how excited we were for it, the build-up going into that game,” Noonan notes as the memories of Clare Shine’s winner at the Aviva Stadium come flooding back as she looks to the tough challenge ahead against Peamount United.

“There’s a lot of younger players in that we’ve been trying to encourage and say, ‘Look, this is what we can get to, and what a marvellous day it is no matter what happens.’ After winning yesterday, I think everyone’s had to level themselves to say, ‘Oh my God, we’re actually going there.’

“It’s definitely going to be a huge day, no matter what. It’s cup final day, anything can happen. We’ve been there before as underdogs, and we’ll go there again as underdogs and give it our all. It’s so exciting, we’ve a young, talented group of girls and we’re all raring to go.”

“But we have to focus on Peamount again this weekend,” she stresses, her attention firmly on their league clash on Saturday, ahead of the footballers’ final round-robin game against Cavan with an All-Ireland semi-final spot on the line. “It will be a good test for us.

“You have to give credit to Peamount, they are a marvellous team, just back from Champions League there on Wednesday. They deserved probably more than they got, going out on penalties.”

She knows the fine line between wining and losing more than anyone, the highs and lows coming thick and fast as she balances two sports at the highest level. But she wouldn’t change any of it for the world.

Noonan has spoken about her dual career and juggling both codes time and time again with The42 and each and every time, her passion and love for both shines through. She’s happy doing exactly this, and she’ll continue on this path as long as she can.

“With everything that’s going on this year, I’ll be on the pitch as much as I can,” she says. “This weekend, people are saying, ‘Are you tired?’ Yeah, I’m tired today but you forget about it with the buzz and adrenaline you have for the the next game.

saoirse-noonan-and-catherine-cronin Playing in the FAI Cup final in 2017. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“You’re ready to go and that’s what it’s all about. We’ve waited long enough for it. I’m delighted to be part of two great teams. There’s other girls as well playing dual, playing camogie and there’s Christina [Dring] on the soccer team playing hockey.

“There’s other players out there doing the same as me, we just have to look after ourselves during the week and then go hell for leather at the weekends.”

While studying Marketing in CIT, spinning the plates she has at the moment between club soccer and inter-county football is a priority, but it’s no secret that a senior international cap is a huge ambition. 

Noonan recently got a nod from Vera Pauw following her stellar club form when the Ireland boss was asked in a press conference what she needed to do to make that step.

And while it’s something that pleased Noonan, she won’t think that far ahead just yet.

“It’s definitely a boost getting a bit of recognition from Vera,” she concludes. “I think she went on about training with boys which I have done. With the situation I’m in at the moment, it’s even harder again to get in with boys training.

“But I think the training I’m doing at the moment is standing to me right now. It’s really intense, it’s really tough. National League over the last three or four years has definitely a lot more competitive, and I think the GAA as well, the fitness and the strength training that we do is definitely standing to me.

“I just need to keep putting the performances in. You’re only as good as your last game so we go again next weekend, try put in a good shift and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Peamount on Saturday, Cavan on Sunday. Another 24 hours of madness, so.

“Exactly,” Noonan finishes, and you can almost hear that smile again.

She wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Emma Duffy

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