THE role of Cork senior football captain will rest easy on Martina O’Brien’s shoulders as the Rebels begin their 2021 campaign under Friday night lights at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Cork’s opening Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1B clash with Tipperary – it will be shown live on TG4, throw-in 7.30pm – will also herald the start of the Ballinascarthy woman’s reign as Cork captain. But as one of the most experienced players on the panel, the four-time All-Ireland champion and six-time national league winner isn’t fazed by her new role.
‘Obviously, it is a great honour and I’m old enough to understand and appreciate all the extra work that goes with it,’ O’Brien told The Southern Star.
‘Being Cork captain is not going to change me out on the pitch. I’ve captained my clubs (Clonakilty – football, Ballinascarthy – camogie) before and I am enjoying being Cork senior captain at the moment.
‘We have been back training with a while, the mood in the Cork camp is very good and everyone is just delighted to be able to concentrate on training and now, all the upcoming matches.’
While there are few additions to an already stacked Cork senior panel, a familiar voice has joined this year’s inter-county coaching staff. Drimoleague native Brian McCarthy led West Cork to county senior football glory last year and has been a big influence throughout O’Brien’s divisional career.
‘Ah sure, Brian is Brian, he loves his football and has settled into the Cork management team,’ O’Brien said.
‘He is around long enough and worked with a lot of men’s and women’s teams down through the years. He is going to bring a lot to Cork this year. Brian is someone who will stand back and take everything in before giving his opinion on things. He has always been someone you could turn to with a problem or ask a question of. He always gives you honest advice.’
A Covid-enforced change to the structure of this year’s Lidl National Football League sees three divisions of eight teams and one of seven. Each division is divided into a North and South (Division 1A and Division 1B) section with four teams in each guaranteeing a minimum of three games.
Cork are set to face familiar foes in fellow Munster sides Tipperary and Waterford in Division 1B. Making up the four-team group are reigning All-Ireland champions and the team that defeated Cork in Croke Park last December, Dublin – this clash will also be live on TG4 on May 29th.
‘The league was never finished out last year and then the championship was so condensed so everything just seemed to come together,’ O’Brien said.
‘This year’s league, because it is split into smaller groups, already feels like it is going to be more competitive. That’s for every team whether you are in Divisions 1, 2, 3 or 4. We know the date the All-Ireland championship begins so you want to have as many quality matches under your belt before then.
‘There will be little time to feel your way in to the national league this year. We will have to be ready to go from day one. You could probably afford to lose one game and make a semi-final (the top two in Division 1B compete against their Division 1A equivalents in the league semi-finals) but then no one will want to take that chance either.’
First up this Friday night at Páirc Uí Chaoimh are Tipperary – an ideal game to start the season and Cork’s first competitive outing since losing the All-Ireland final to Dublin.
‘We will be asking ourselves have we progressed since last December? Obviously, we want to improve. We will have a chance to do just that in the first couple of league games against three quality sides,’ O’Brien explained.
‘The first game against Tipp, you cannot look beyond that as they are always a really tough side to play against. It is a cliché but Cork must take things one step at a time this year. Our focus is on Tipperary and no one else.’