EPHIE Fitzgerald and his backroom team have Cork primed for this weekend’s All-Ireland ladies’ senior football decider against Dublin at Croke Park.
Strangely, Cork enter this weekend’s senior decider as slight underdogs despite winning all but two of the last thirteen finals. That is because Dublin’s emergence as a perennial threat sees Mick Bohan’s side entering their fifth consecutive All-Ireland final having overcome Mayo 4-11 to 0-11 to lift the Brendan Martin Cup 12 months ago.
Whist having the utmost respect for his opponents, Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald is ready to meet the sky blues’ challenge head on; ‘I would have no fears of them (Dublin),’ Ephie Fitzgerald stated to The Southern Star.
‘We will be well up for it, but we know we are facing a formidable challenge in Dublin. That’s what they’re there for though, they are All-Ireland champions. We are going up there to give as best an account of ourselves as we can. We will see where that takes us.
‘The coin has been flipped a bit in that Dublin probably has a lot more experience than us right now. A lot of their girls have probably been around a long time. They are very composed and used to the big occasion.
‘They’re fantastic footballers but that’s the challenge. Other games over the years have been very tight and I’m expecting Sunday to be the same.
‘There is a real feel-good factor around Dublin at the moment when you see what the men’s team has achieved and their ladies winning last year. We know Dublin and have been playing them for years. We know how they play and all of that but any given day any game can turn up its own story.’
Getting back to another All-Ireland final was an absolute must for a Cork squad that failed to progress beyond the last four following a 3-11 to 0-18 reversal at the hands of Mayo in 2017.
Since then, Fitzgerald’s squad has seen an influx of new and exciting young players but the experienced manager is quick to pay tribute to his backroom team and John Cleary’s combined efforts in helping Cork get back to Croke Park for another tilt at All-Ireland glory.
‘I’m involved in football a long time and I can safely say we are very well prepared,’ Cork’s manager commented.
‘Kevin Tattan and James Masters have done an absolutely wonderful job. I’ve been able to take a step back from the coaching side of it and it is very refreshing to see two young, dedicated lads plying their trade and doing their best for Cork ladies’ football.
‘Kevin is responsible for our strength and conditioning, but is also a very good football coach as well. We have a great atmosphere in the camp and it’s a fairly new squad, we’ve a lot of young girls who are experiencing a senior All-Ireland final for the first time. ‘What we wanted to do when the older girls left us was to create an atmosphere and panel that will take Cork forward over the next seven or eight years. In that sense, we are a little bit ahead of schedule in terms of our development.
‘We are blessed in Cork and I’d like to credit John Cleary for his work at underage level. They have won three minors in a row and were unlucky, this year, not to win another one. There has been a lot of work going on at underage and our own county board have been very good to us as well.’
If the relaxed atmosphere at the press night at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last week is anything to by, then Ephie Fitzgerald and his backroom team have succeeded in preparing their squad in the best possible manner.
Nerves are to be expected but the buzz of expectation, coupled with the players’ admission that their build-up couldn’t have gone any better, means Cork are primed for a shot at the reigning champions.
‘There is a great buzz around the place, we have prepared as best we can and we are going to go to Dublin full of conference and hopefully, we can put in a performance,’ Ephie Fitzgerald noted.
‘My own gut feeling is that we will go into the game and give a very good account of ourselves. The form is excellent in the camp and everyone is really looking forward to it now.
‘There was probably a lot of pressure on us in the semi-final after losing last year; we have a lot of new girls, so to get over that Donegal team was very satisfying. Finals can take on a life of their own, it is a different challenge but our girls are used to playing on the big day so hopefully will go up to Dublin and give a good account of ourselves.
‘We have a wealth of experience in our forward line. Yes, they are quite young, but have been around and seen quite a lot. The younger girls have won a lot of All-Irelands themselves, so whilst they haven’t played on the biggest day of all; they have certainly played in enough big matches throughout their own careers.’
One of my abiding memories with this group is returning home to Cork, having won an All-Ireland and the joy within our group at seeing the huge crowds that came out to greet us,’ Corkís manager remembered.
‘The girls don’t get any expenses, they just get on with it. Their currency is football and trophies. I think our captain, Ciara O’Sullivan, epitomises everything that is good about sport in terms of her encouragement and how she uses her experience with the other girls.
‘Our girls demand the best of us so training has to be good. We have a very happy camp, they are great girls and because of that I’m genuinely going into this game very relaxed. The work is done, we have given it as much as we can, so we just hope that on the day itself we that will be able to go out and showcase our talents.
‘There will be near misses and scores, but in terms of preparation, I honestly don’t think we could be better-prepared for this All-Ireland final.’