THE sparring is over, it’s time for knock-out football – and Ephie Fitzgerald says Cork will revel in the heat of championship.
Group 1 winners Cork take on Group 4 runners-up Tyrone this Saturday in an All-Ireland quarter-final in Ballinasloe (3pm) with Fitzgerald backing his players to kick on after coming through the group stages.
While Cork’s shock loss to Armagh made headlines last weekend, the Rebels won’t be worried as they were assured of their place in the last eight already, barring a catastrophic loss. There was little on the line for Cork against Armagh, but from here on in, the stakes are higher.
‘Our girls perform better when it is knock-out,’ Fitzgerald told The Southern Star.
‘We have a good panel and virtually all our panel has got a game over the last few weeks. That’s important that everyone has tasted championship football – and that was one of the bonuses from the Armagh game. It means if someone needs to come on, they’ve already championship minutes under their belt.
‘Knock-out is what we all like, we’re fed up with the sparring. Once we had beaten Cavan well, we knew we were as good as qualified. The girls respond well to championship and they will be a bit hurt too after last weekend so that keeps us on our toes.’
This Cork team is eager to kick into gear. They want matches that have a prize on offer – and the reward for victory against Tyrone is, barring a shock Dublin loss against Kerry, an All-Ireland semi-final against the Dubs.
Before that, it’s Tyrone. The Ulster side are the 2018 intermediate champions and also surprise quarter-finalists after they finished second in their group behind Mayo and ahead of Donegal, who they beat 3-12 to 3-9, having lost their opening game to Mayo by three points. Ephie Fitzgerald is wary yet confident.
‘It’s a difficult task but if we play well we should have enough to win,’ the Cork boss says.
‘Tyrone are a good side, they beat Donegal and were unlucky not to beat Mayo. If we were facing Mayo or Donegal this weekend we’d be expecting a very tough game. Tyrone are very functional, very athletic, have good players and have a lot of pace in the team. They set up defensively and they will be hard to break down.’