THERE’S a method to Davy Fitzgerald’s madness, Cork boss Matthew Twomey says, and it’s paying off.
The addition of the Clare man as a coach in Twomey’s management team was hailed as a coup, and it’s proving to be a shrewd bit of business.
‘It’s been very different, but very positive,’ Cork forward Amy O’Connor said recently.
‘What I love about it is that he treats us the same as he treats the men. There’s no sugarcoating anything. And with the coaching, it’s just coaching, not coaching a female team.’
Twomey also sees the benefits. Look at Cork’s defensive record in this championship run to the All-Ireland final. The Rebels have conceded 1-6, 2-5, 0-9, 0-10, 1-17 and 0-10. The concession of 1-17 to Tipperary in Cork’s final group game is the outlier, but there’s context: Twomey’s charges had already qualified for the knock-out stages before this game so there was nothing on the line for them. In those other five games Cork conceded 3-40 (0-49), less than 0-10 per game. That meanness at the back gives Cork a strong platform.
‘Very happy with that because it’s known that our two wing backs, Saoirse McCarthy and Laura Hayes, go bombing up into attack, but we still don’t concede that much. In fairness to the coaches – and especially Davy – they have their eyes on that,’ Twomey told the Star Sport Podcast.
‘The marking, the tackling, it’s gone on to another level. We’ve really excelled in that this year. It’s the touch-tight stuff. There are a lot of things that Davy has brought in on the defensive side. Because we are so strong defensively it allows our wing backs to go forward so it brings an element offensively as well.’
Cork won’t wilt down the home stretch in Sunday’s All-Ireland final against Kilkenny either. Again, this is where Fitzgerald has helped.
‘The pre-season the players did was close to insanity,’ Twomey said, ‘There were times when I felt sorry for them out on the field. But Davy always said it to them, that there is a method to his madness. He said it would bring character to them and that our fitness wouldn't be questioned. We haven't played a team in the championship that has been fitter than us.
‘Davy has brought a different voice and different ideas. There was nothing wrong with what we did last year. Heading into the All-Ireland final I was very confident in what we had done, but we just have to bring something different – and that’s what Davy brings.’
Twomey was part of the Cork set-up last season under previous manager Paudie Murray when the Rebels fell at the final hurdle. That loss stung. When Katrina Mackey goaled inside the final quarter Cork led by three. But Galway rallied, outscored 2018 champions Cork by 1-4 to 0-1 to snatch the All-Ireland title. Heartbreak for Cork. A 1-15 to 1-12 loss. That will be touched on this week.
‘It was a very sombre feeling and we don’t want to face that again,’ Twomey said. Lessons were learned that day. Cork needed more strength in depth. When the new manager was handed the reins of the Rebels, building a stronger panel was one of his main goals.
‘In last year’s All-Ireland final it was Galway’s bench that beat us. That’s widely known,’ Twomey explained. Cork used just two subs in the 2021 All-Ireland final – Linda Collins and Cliona Healy, with the latter introduced in the 59th minute. More options were needed.
‘There were a lot of players on the periphery last year that didn't get a run, like Emma Murphy for example. We gave her a few starts and she flourished. That’s important because when we needed subs against Waterford, they made a difference. We have options and that’s the ideal situation,’ Twomey said, using the recent All-Ireland semi-final win over Waterford as an example. Cork used four subs, including Ashling Thompson who turned the game. Even with Cork down Orla Cronin, Pamela Mackey and Linda Collins from last year’s panel, there’s still strength in depth. That will be tested this Sunday. The hope is Cork have the answers.