Kawempe Muslim defender Grace Aluka chases down UCU Lady Cardinals midfielder Catherine Nakiridde.

Up to around March this year, UCU Lady Cardinals were not certain whether they would take part in this season’s FUFA Women Super League. With reports circulating in the media about the uncertainty of basketball teams like UCU Canons and UCU Lady Canons also attached to the Mukono based Institute, the fears around their Women’s football team kept growing.

Several reports indicated the University was not willing to offer scholarships to athletes due to the effects of COVID-19.

When FUFA held a consultative meeting with teams in the FUFA Women Super League on March 10th, March 2021 at Jevine Hotel, UCU Lady Cardinals did not have any representative an indicator that the aforementioned reports held water.

Simon Assimwe, the assistant coach at UCU Lady Cardinals hinted about the struggles they had prior to the start of the season, indicating they were uncertain about the future.

“It is important to the players, coaches and the University at large that we have been able to reach this far. We had lost hope and that is why we started training late but I’m thankful to God that the team is now in the final.” He told Kawowo Sports.

Departure of Coach Magoba

Christian Magoba guided UCU Lady Cardinals to winning the 2018/19 FUFA Women Elite League. He had come on an interim basis following the death of Peter Ssebulime. However, he was able to defy odds and guided the team to success, defeating Lady Doves who they face on Wednesday.

Jimmy Kintu is now in charge and despite missing the team’s opening two group games, the performance has not fallen. There are always fears of disruption of progress especially when changes in the technical staff happen. This hasn’t been the case with UCU Lady Cardinals.

Asiimwe says they take one game at a time and believes this has helped them in this tournament.

“We work as a team and everyone is committed to our cause. The players have the belief and this spreads across to everyone on the team. The motivation we get from each game keeps us going and that has helped us to get to the final.” He said after eliminating Uganda Martyrs in the semi-finals.

But what has made UCU Lady Cardinals a different package at the tournament?

Right from the time when they set their feet at the FUFA Technical Centre, they looked like a group on a mission. The organisation, calmness and doing things as a unit both on and off the pitch gives them a distinction.

You can hardly find them scattered on the campus. The players usually move in one group even when going for meals.

Every evening, they convene at the pitch side for a praise and worship session and Hasifa Nassuna, the captain despite being a Muslim says this has helped in building team work.

“We do everything as a team both on and off the pitch and this has helped us to bond together and understand our values as a team. Every time we convene to pray and worship, God listen to us and I think it’s the reason we are through to the finals.” She said.

Secondly, UCU Lady Cardinals largely maintained the team that won the League in 2018/19 season. For instance, for the team that started against Lady Doves in the finals, only Adams Kemisa and Moureen Kinavudori are not part of the team.

The addition of Shadia Nankya at the start of last season gives them more stability and leadership at the back. She also adds goals to her name and scored two vital games in the group stages both being match winners.

She struck home direct from free kicks against She Corporate and Olila High School with the latter game sending UCU Lady Cardinals to the Playoffs.

Besides Ikwaput’s brace, no other team has managed to find the back of the net against the Mukono based outfit. With the experience of Ruth Aturo in goal plus defenders such as Phoebe Banura, Annet Nakirijja and Mercy Nabulobi, they have always looked impenetrable.

In the game against Uganda Martyrs HS, Aturo needed to make three saves to keep the team in the game. She denied Catherine Nagadya direct from the corner and also saved a one on one situation. The shot stopper also did well to tame Spencer Nakacwa’s low drive at the near post.

Experience playing the part

With the FUFA Women Super League, largely composed of players between the age of 17-20, UCU Lady Cardinals seem to benefit from the fact they have players slightly older. That maturity has always portrayed in the games played at the tournament.

Hasifa Nassuna has given the team the drive going forward despite not scoring so many goals. In times when the UCU Lady Cardinals are under pressure, she does hold-up play to win fouls and kill the tempo for opponents. She also has the ability to take on defenders.

Different match winners

Shadia Nankya, Hasifa Nassuna and Jauharah Nabaggala have each won a game for the team at the tournament.

Nankya scored against She Corporate and Olila High School in the group stage with the two games ending in an identical score of 1-0.

Nassuna on the other hand netted a brace against Isra Soccer Academy in a game where UCU Lady Cardinals needed to toil hard to overcome a resilient outfit with the opener coming in the 79th minute.

Nabaggala despite getting relegated to the bench in the final two group games against Isra Soccer Academy and Olila after picking a slight injury bounced back to the starting team against Uganda Martyrs in the semi-final and tucked home the lone goal of the game. Coincidentally, this was only her second goal in her club career with the other also coming against the same opponent two years ago.

Ahead of the final against Lady Doves on Wednesday, UCU Lady Cardinals despite the outcome will be proud of their journey, moving from a point of uncertainty to success in a short period.

UCU Lady Cardinals Road to the final

Group 2 Games

  • UCU Lady Cardinals 1-0 She Corporate
  • Lady Doves 2-1 UCU Lady Cardinals
  • Isra Soccer Academy 0-3 UCU Lady Cardinals
  • Olila High School WFC 0-1 UCU Lady Cardinals

Playoffs

  • UCU Lady Cardinals 1-0 Uganda Martyrs High School WFC

Joel Muyita

Joel Muyita is a senior staff writer at Kawowo Sports.

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