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‘No team could cope with losing five of their top six scorers,’ insists Cork manager Shane Ronayne

March 14th, 2024 12:15 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

‘No team could cope with losing five of their top six scorers,’ insists Cork manager Shane Ronayne Image
Sisters Ciara O'Sullivan, left, and Doireann O'Sullivan have both retired from inter-county football.

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WHEN it rains, it pours – in the space of a few hours on an otherwise normal Friday afternoon, the inter-county retirement of the O’Sullivan sisters, Ciara and Doireann, shook Cork ladies football. 

Just the 13 All-Ireland senior medals and six All-Stars between the Mourneabbey marvels. Plus a combined 3-61 in Cork’s 2023 campaign – they accounted for 24 percent of the Rebels’ scoring total last season.

How the current Cork team could do with that firepower right now as they languish at the bottom of Division 1 having scored a combined 41 points (3-32) in their five league games in this campaign.

This Cork team hasn’t managed more than seven scores in any of those five matches. They’ve scored 1-6 three times and 0-7 twice. Those totals will win very few games so it’s no shock that Shane Ronayne’s team has lost their last four to sink to the foot of the table.

This lack of firepower is one of the reasons the inexperienced Rebels are staring at relegation to Division 2.

‘Last year we scored 38 goals and 108 points between league and championship, and 71 percent of those scores are no longer available to us. It’s a huge volume to take out of any inter-county squad, male or female,’ Ronayne explains. The stats back this up. Cork are currently without five of their top six scorers from last season; three players are no longer with the panel (O’Sullivan sisters have retired, Orlaith Cahalane is focussed on camogie only) and two are out with long-term injuries (Eimear Kiely and Katie Quirke). 


Ronayne’s claim that his side are currently down 71 percent of last season’s scores stacks up. Players who kicked a combined 14-71 (38 per cent) are no longer on the panel, while the source of a further 33 percent of 2023 scores are currently sidelined (Kiely, Quirke, Rachel Leahy and Shauna Kelly).

‘I don’t think anybody could cope with losing five of their top six scorers at the one time. That’s a really big reason behind our lack of scoring power. We have to deal with that. It’s up to our attackers to be a little bit sharper and for the rest of the team to support the attack,’ Ronayne adds.

Somehow, and from somewhere, Cork need to find the scores to pull at least one win from their remaining two games, away to All-Ireland champs Dublin on Saturday before another away trip, to 2021 and ’22 All-Ireland winners Meath on March 24th. 

Otherwise, Cork will be relegated. 

‘We are not really thinking about it in the squad, to be honest, we’re talking about how we can improve the performance again from against Mayo,’ Ronayne says, in reference to the 0-9 to 0-7 defeat that was an improvement from the horror show, as the Cork boss described it after, against Waterford in the previous game.

‘We had a far better performance, especially defensively wise, against Mayo. We were very porous against Waterford, so we need to offer better protection to our full-back line and I think we did that well. But attacking wise we need to improve.’

The player drain in this Cork team is remarkable and eye-opening. Compare the experienced Cork team that started the 2020 All-Ireland final against Dublin to the fresh-faced side that lined out recently against Mayo – only Melissa Duggan and Maire O’Callaghan started both. Five of the starting six Cork forwards that day are not involved now. Áine Terry O’Sullivan stepped back after the 2022 campaign. Orla Finn retired after the 2022 season. Saoirse Noonan turned her full attention to soccer in early 2021. Now both Ciara and Doireann O’Sullivan have retired, too. The only surviving attacking starter from the 2021 final is Eimear Kiely who is sidelined after an ACL injury suffered last summer. 

The lethal Orla Finn retired ahead of the 2023 season.


Cork also lost their top scorer after three rounds of this year’s league, Katie Quirke – she racked up 76 percent of the Rebels’ scores in those games – who suffered a fractured patella and will be out of action until the All-Ireland series. Like the opening paragraph said, when it rains, it pours.

‘I don't think any team, male or female, could deal with the loss of quality players that we have had,’ Shane Ronayne says. He’s not offering that as an excuse for the current woes, more stating the facts.

‘Doireann scored 1-42 last year and Ciara scored 2-19, they are huge amounts. Then there are the players who are injured – Katie scored 2-28 last year, Eimear Kiely scored 5-17, they are huge scores to have taken out of the team.’

This is a transitional phase for a Cork team that has lost an incredible amount of experience all over the pitch. All-Star defender and five-time All-Ireland winner Roisin Phelan has also retired from inter-county. There are problems to solve all over the field, and Shane Ronayne must guide this group through these choppy waters while also trying to pick up results. 

To Cork’s attack, there is no magic button here to solve their shyness in front of the posts. The new kids on the block have to learn, fast, but Division 1 is an unforgiving place for players trying to find their feet and shooting boots. Outside of the injured Quirke (1-16 in three games), Cork’s scorers have been Daire Kiely (1-6, 3f), Abigail Ring 0-5 (3f), Lydia McDonagh (1-0), Sadhbh O’Leary (0-2), Laura O’Mahony (0-1), Ellie Jack (0-1) and Melissa Duggan (0-1). The hope is that the long-term absentees – Quirke, Eimear Kiely and Rachel Leahy – will be back for the championship, but by then Cork could already be a Division 2 team for the first time in over two decades.

‘Whatever happens in the league isn't going to define the season for us,’ a defiant Ronayne explains, but there’s a strong chance Cork will be a Division 2 team ahead of the championship. 

‘We have players learning on the job at the moment and they are learning beside players who don’t have a lot of experience; against Mayo we had players making their first start and they were playing with players who had less than 10 starts in league or championship. It’s difficult for the young players to bed in seamlessly given the amount of players who aren't there through retirement and injury and so on,’ Ronanye says.

‘We don’t want to go to Division 2 but look at the Kerry team that had a huge campaign there and took that momentum into where they are now. Meath were in Division 2 a few years ago and ended up winning an All-Ireland that year. Being in Division 2 doesn't define you, but our focus now is on getting the performances and the results to stay in Division 1.’

The Rebels’ rally will need to start this Saturday against Dublin. Otherwise, Cork will be pushed closer to the trapdoor.

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