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Ephie Fitzgerald ready to change Cork style and play more direct

April 20th, 2021 11:15 AM

By Ger McCarthy

Cork senior ladies football manager Ephie Fitzgerald is looking forward to the start of the season.

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LAURA O’Mahony’s comeback from a cruciate ligament tear is right on track – but Cork won’t rush the Skibbereen woman back into action too soon.

The Cork senior footballer discovered last summer that she had suffered the knee injury and it ruled her out of the 2020 All-Ireland championship.

Rebel boss Ephie Fitzgerald expects to have the O’Donovan Rossa player available for the championship, but hasn’t put a date on her comeback.

‘Laura is one player who has been very unlucky with injuries,’ Fitzgerald tells The Southern Star.

‘Laura endured a partial tear of her cruciate and has also had a knee issue to sort out. The physios are satisfied with Laura’s progress, which is encouraging. There is no timeline on her return but she is back training and doing a lot more than a couple of months ago.

‘The news on Laura is positive but we are not going to rush her back. She is a fabulous talent and has time to get herself ready for the All-Ireland championship.’

Glengarriff footballer Niamh Cotter – who plays her club football now with Kilmacud Crokes in Dublin – also suffered a stop-start 2020 campaign, but Cork boss Fitzgerald expects to have a fully-fit Cotter pushing hard for a starting spot this season.

‘Niamh struggled with her back last year and she also had important exams so the most important thing for Niamh right now is that she trains right and gets back to full fitness,’ explains Fitzgerald, as Cork preparations will pick up next week ahead of the throw-in for the 2021 Lidl Ladies National Football League that starts on May 23rd.

‘Niamh is experienced enough to do her rehab properly and her parents are doctors so she’s in good hands. I had a Zoom call with her last week and Niamh is positive. Again, like Laura, Niamh is a work in progress and there is no set date for her return. Bottom line, is that we want Niamh ready for the championship.’

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As well as players returning from long-term injury, West Cork will also provide the county’s captain Martina O’Brien plus a new management team member this year as county-winning West Cork boss Brian McCarthy has joined as a selector. Fitzgerald is a fan of both.

‘Martina has been a stalwart for Cork ladies football,’ the Cork boss says.

‘She is a player who works ever so hard at her game. Martina has improved incrementally every year for the past five or six years. She is a fantastic goalkeeper. Even in terms of our Zoom sessions, Martina has been very vocal and active with the rest of the panel. We are thrilled that she is getting a well-deserved opportunity to captain her county.’

‘I don’t know Brian personally that well just yet but he was heavily involved with West Cork’s success last year. He is a positive individual and should fit in.

‘One thing we pride ourselves on as a management group with the Cork seniors is that everyone gets a say. I’m very much into giving people opportunities and thrashing things out. I’m sure Brian has a lot to offer and will fit in. He’s very welcome to the Cork set-up and we are all looking forward to working with him.’

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Dohenys’ Melissa Duggan moved to Dublin to work full-time as a pharmacist recently. Looking after players working outside the county bounds is nothing new for Ephie Fitzgerald. The Cork manager is confident Melissa, Roisin Phelan (dentist), Niamh Cotter (solicitor) and any other Dublin-based player workloads will be effectively managed during the coming season.

‘One of things we, as a Cork management team, won’t do this year is ask the Dublin-based players to come down for too many training sessions,’ Fitzgerald says.

‘Midweek sessions are not going to be an option just yet even though Roisin Phelan, in fairness to her, made huge sacrifices in coming down for them last year. Those girls will train away on their own during the week and, hopefully, we will see them at the weekends.’

Saoirse Noonan’s decision to pursue a soccer career with Shelbourne in the Women’s League of Ireland means an enforced change to the Cork senior’s forward line for 2021. Noonan is a massive loss but there are numerous options open to Fitzgerald and plenty of talented forwards to fill the void left behind by the Republic of Ireland international’s absence.

‘I’m a great believer in people following their dreams and Saoirse is doing just that,’ Fitzgerald says.

‘Hopefully, there might be a professional career for Saoirse down the line and we wish her the best of luck with that.

‘Her absence provides an opportunity for others to come in and shine. There will be lots of competition for places this year coupled with possibly changing Cork’s style of play and becoming more direct. Last year, at the business end of the season, we were without the likes of Niamh Cotter and Libby Coppinger. That meant our attacking options were limited. This time around, there will be an awful lot more competition for places but that will be good for Cork ladies football.’

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The national football league’s return is pencilled in for next month with Cork drawn in Division 1B alongside All-Ireland champions Dublin, Tipperary and Waterford. Cork manager Fitzgerald is consistent in his views on putting any of his players in danger while Covid-19 is still around.

‘I lost an aunt to Covid-19 about two months ago,’ Fitzgerald says.

‘Also, I have two elderly parents plus my wife’s elderly father to think about. They have all had at least one of their vaccines at this stage. Personally, I’m more comfortable with the whole situation because of that now. That’s borne out by the death rates coming down in recent months, particularly amongst the elderly.

‘I am a lot less stressed about it than I was this time last year. That said, everyone must continue to be cautious. The virus is still out there and can still be spread although the amount of people catching it while outdoors represents a very small percentage.

‘Still, I found it mind boggling how people could have gone training in the last few months. I just couldn’t get my head around it. That’s the men’s game and, thank God, no ladies team has been seen training. Just from a general health point of view, I found the whole thing to be ridiculous, to be quite honest with you.’

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