EMMA Spillane is back in a Cork football jersey – and she means business.
The Bantry Blues footballer sat out the 2020 inter-county season but was back in Cork colours for last weekend’s league opener against Tipperary.
Next up are All-Ireland champions Dublin in Páirc Uí Chaoimh this Saturday night (7.35pm throw-in, live on TG4).
Spillane, who did line out for county senior champions West Cork and her club Bantry last season, looked right at home at corner-back in her comeback against Tipp. With a first competitive inter-county appearance under her belt, she is looking forward to taking on the reigning All-Ireland champions on Saturday.
‘There were definitely a few butterflies playing our first league game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the match being on TV as well,’ Spillane says.
‘It was a nice welcome back though. There were definitely some nerves as it was my first Cork game since 2018 but it was great to be back. I was delighted to get the start as we have a very strong panel when you see the subs who came on.
‘I didn’t notice how much I missed playing as there were so few games last year, although it definitely wasn’t easy watching Cork play the All-Ireland final on TV.
‘I have a lot of strength and fitness work ahead of me but that’s because I haven’t been training with an inter-county team for three nights a week with so long. Michelle Dullea, our strength and conditioning coach, has been making us run (a lot) so we are getting there!’
A hard-earned national league victory over Tipperary was achieved thanks to a much-improved second-half performance last Friday night. Dublin visit Leeside this Saturday night having racked up 6-15 in their league opener against Waterford. A re-run of last year’s All-Ireland final is something Spillane is looking forward to.
‘Dublin are the best team in the country at the moment and they are going to be a huge challenge for us,’ the Cork defender says.
‘Playing teams of Dublin’s quality can only improve us. Hopefully, we can get the win at home. In fairness to Ephie (Fitzgerald) there has been more of an emphasis on kick-passing in training since I returned. Tackling is the other thing we have been concentrating on and it is working well for us. These are the things we hope to bring to the game with Dublin on Saturday night. ‘
Spillane experienced another nice moment on her competitive return to inter-county football when Bantry Blues team-mate Eve Murphy was introduced as a late substitute in the win over Tipperary.
‘I was absolutely thrilled for Eve Murphy to get her chance,’ Spillane says.
‘It is great to have someone else from Bantry on the Cork panel with me because I never had anyone, all the way up along, from underage to senior. It is great for Eve as she was flying it last year with West Cork and Bantry. She definitely deserves the opportunity, she came on against Tipperary and did great.’
An exciting, if condensed, league and championship campaign awaits Spillane and her Cork team-mates. Defeated by Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland final, a squad freshened by Sadhbh O’Leary, Emma Cleary, Katie Quirke and Abbie O’Mahony’s emergence will be eager to build momentum at the expense of Dublin this weekend.
‘The condensed season means Cork will have a game nearly every week,’ Spillane explains.
‘If Cork were to reach a national league final there would only be a one-week turnaround to the first round of the championship. There are loads of games coming up but Cork has a huge panel of players. Getting to a league final would be great for the girls. Ephie has plenty of talent to call upon when you see the girls who came on against Tipperary.’
Now, Spillane and Co have Dublin in their sights.