THE Lidl Ladies National Football Leagues get underway this Sunday with a full programme of fixtures across all four divisions. Division 1 champions Cork kick off at home to Mayo as a new era begins following Ephie Fitzgerald’s appointment as manager, succeeding the great Eamonn Ryan.
Lidl Ladies NFL Division 1 Previews
(All matches to be played on Sunday, January 31st)
Cork v Mayo, 2pm, Mallow (S. Mulvihill)
The match that will attract most attention this weekend will be the visit of Mayo to the home of the defending champions. There will be huge interest in the performance of Cork as they play their first match without Eamonn Ryan at the helm since 2004.
The Rebellettes will launch their defence of their league crown with question marks hanging over the future of several of their established stars. However, new manager, Ephie Fitzgerald, will have an abundance of young talent to choose from including graduates from their 2015 All-Ireland minor championship winning side. The quality of the Cork squad is beyond question and there is no doubt that they will all be itching to make a big impression on their new manager.
Mayo showed a lot of potential in 2015 but it was to prove a frustrating year ultimately. The retention of Frank Browne as manager will ensure stability as will the presence of Cora Staunton who confirmed she will continue to play in 2016. Niamh Kelly emerged as great support for Staunton up front whilst Aileen Gilroy will hope to continue her return from serious injury.
Cork will be favourites going into this game but Mayo will have plenty of motivation to record a win over a team that has so often been their downfall in recent years.
Tyrone v Galway, 2pm, Killyclogher
Tyrone are a team in transition having survived in Division 1 last year in the last game of the league and suffering a heavy defeat at the hands of Mayo in the championship. However, there is loads of optimism in Tyrone who will have home advantage and will have an extra year of experience behind some of their young stars.
Galway have been the team expected to take that final step to glory in recent years but they have yet to deliver on this promise. Willie Ward has taken over as the manager having been involved with the all conquering Kilkerrin Clonberne team in recent years. Ward will give a number of young stars their first taste of senior inter county action in the coming weeks in a bid to take that final step.
Expectation is high in Galway again this year for the team that pushed Cork so close last year but this will be a tricky test away to a Tyrone side who need to take full advantage of their home fixtures to avoid a nervous final day as they did in 2015.
Monaghan v Armagh, 2pm, Emyvale
Paula Cunningham is another new manager as she takes charge of her native county for the first time having made a great impression when managing Fermanagh previously. Monaghan have been one of the top counties for several years but their fortunes have waned recently as they have failed to win any silverware in two years. Question marks remain over the availability of some of their more established stars but great confidence will be drawn from the All-Ireland club championship win for Donaghmoyne. The visit of their great rivals, Armagh, will provide all the motivation they need for the first round.
One of the headline appointments in 2016 was that of former All-Ireland winner Ronan Clarke to succeed James Daly in Armagh. He has inherited a squad that is in very good health. Aimee Makin was a revelation in 2015 as she exploded onto the national stage with Aoife Lennon looking more and more comfortable following her switch from international soccer. Caroline O’Hanlon remains one of the very best players in the country along with Sinead McCleary. If Clarke can get the best out of players like Fionnuala McKenna, Kelly Mallon and Mairead Tennyson then he has a team with the potential to make an immediate impact on their return to Division 1.
Monaghan will want to lay down a marker to their Ulster rivals in what looks the game of the round but Armagh will give them nothing easy in Emyvale.
Dublin v Kerry, 2pm, Parnell Park
Dublin have been on an upward curve since the appointment of Gregory McGonigle who takes charge of the sky blues for the third year. That stability allied to the form they have shown in recent years and the wealth of young talent available will make Dublin favourites for All-Ireland glory. This expectation brings its own problems but this side are now very experienced to deal with them.
The return of Sinead Aherne is a massive boost as it will alleviate the pressure on Lyndsey Davey and Carla Rowe who had shouldered the scoring burden in her absence but the return of this ace attacker could be the key ingredient for this Dublin side. No longer are they considered young and full of potential, this side have truly arrived and will want to cement their standing in the game.
Kerry boss Alan O’Neill has suffered a big blow at the start of the year as he must plan without the services of All-Star defender and captain, Cáit Lynch. However, Kerry claimed the Munster championship in 2015 and have shown that they are ready to make the next step.
Aislinn Desmond was their 2015 All Star and she has assumed the captaincy and is a natural leader for this strong Kerry team. As always Louise Ní Muircheartaigh and Sarah Houlihan will be expected to make it a very tough opener for the Dublin rearguard in Parnell Park.
Playing in Parnell Park is a significant boost to this Dublin side who will want to put on a good show for their home support whilst Kerry need to hit the ground running against a side they will see as one of their biggest rivals for a semi-final berth.