BY KIERAN McCARTHY
CORK’S search for a new number one is well underway, according to Cork camogie manager Paudie Murray.
Five-time All-Ireland winner and four-time All-Star goalkeeper Aoife Murray – also Paudie’s younger sister – stepped back from the inter-county game after last September’s All-Ireland final win (1-13 to 0-9) against Galway in Croke Park.
Murray had been involved with the county senior panel for 14 years, the last 12 as the undisputed number one, so the Cork management team knows that they have huge shoes to fill this year.
‘We need to find a new goalkeeper and we need to get it right,’ Paudie Murray told The Southern Star ahead of this weekend’s national league opener against Limerick.
‘In so many ways, Aoife is irreplaceable. She’s one of the best goalkeepers the county has had but there is a lot more to her than just her goalkeeping ability.
‘There are two people inside in the dressing-room who set the stall out – that’s Aoife and Gemma (O’Connor). It’s like having Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara, but when they go you need to fill that gap.
‘You will find a very good goalkeeper who can step up, but it’s replacing what else she brought to the team – like her leadership and experience – that will take time.’
Murray noted that Cork have a strong tradition of top-class camogie shot-stoppers, namechecking Ciara Keohane (Barryroe) and Ger Casey (Inniscarra), and he is confident that the county will be strong between the posts this season.
Among the contenders will be Amy Lee (Na Piarsaigh), who got a few games in the national league last season, and Chloe Casey (Sars), who captained the Cork minors last season.
Murray, heading into his fourth season as Cork manager, didn’t take too much persuading to stay on board for 2016. He has guided the county to back-to-back All-Irelands, and his big target now is winning the three-in-a-row.
‘It didn’t take a genius to work out that I would be back, no matter what I’d say. I didn’t need too much time to think about it,’ he said.
‘There is a three-in-a-row there. It’s not every day you get the chance to achieve that so I couldn’t walk away from it. It’s one of the reasons I stayed on. It won’t be easy but we are one step away and it has to be the target.’
Cork will be without Julia White (Achilles tendon) until June – ‘she makes a huge difference,’ Murray says – while Gemma O’Connor, Rena Buckley and the other experienced campaigners have committed to the cause for the year ahead.
Central to Cork’s three-in-a-row bid, according to Murray, will be the performance of last season’s new kids on the block, who made such a positive impact. They have to move onto the next level now, he insists.
‘Go back three or four years ago, the general feeling was that when the established players moved on that Cork would be left with very little,’ the Cork boss explained.
‘But in the last few years, we’ve had players like Orla (Cronin), Hannah (Looney), Meabh (Cahalane), Amy (O’Connor) and a few more step up, and there are more players who I am hoping will step up this year – there’s Linda Collins from Courcey Rovers, Lisa Lynch from Valley Rovers, Sarah Fahy, Rebecca Walsh, all who are around the 18/19 mark.
‘What needs to happen, and if it doesn’t we are in trouble, is that the new girls from last year must move their game on to the next level. They cannot stay at the same level as last year. They will have learned a lot from last year and now they need to push on again. If they do, we’ll be okay. If we don’t, we’ll be passed out.’
Murray wants to unearth ‘two or three’ players in the league with the championship in mind, and he has his sights set on a semi-final place.
In Group 2 with Kilkenny, Limerick, Derry and Waterford, two teams will advance to the Division 1 semi-finals where they will be paired against the top two from Group 1, which includes Tipperary, Galway, Offaly, Wexford, Dublin and Clare.
Murray, as he has done in previous seasons, has strengthened his backroom team with the addition of Jamie Harrington (Blackrock) as coach and Adam McCarthy (Cobh) as the conditioning coach. They replace Kevin Mulcahy and Sean Cremin.
Ahead of the league throw-in this weekend, Murray sounded a note of caution, adding: ‘However hard it was last year it will be twice as hard this year.’