IN one way, Saturday in St Brendan’s Park in Birr will be very normal, but in another it will be quite different.
All-Ireland ladies’ SFC champions Cork will take on Cavan in a quarter-final tie (12.30pm), which is nothing unusual, given that the Rebels have been involved in the All-Ireland series every year since 2004. However, for the first time since the incredible winning run began with the ’04 Munster title, Cork won’t have Eamon Ryan on the line for a championship knock-out game.
Cork star Vera Foley admits that it is still somewhat strange, but Ryan’s replacement Ephie Fitzgerald has brought the same standards to bear and so the change feels seamless.
‘We lost Eamon and he was a massive part of the team,’ she says, ‘but it comes down to the players at the end of the day.
‘We could have driven on with someone new or let it affect us, it was make-or-break for us. The calibre of player that we have, there are numerous leaders, it’s not just the older girls, the younger players were willing to step up too.
‘Change is change but we all have a common goal, and the new management, it’s very obvious that they’re determined as well. We all want to get to Croke Park and win and, as long as we’re on the same wavelength, we’ll reach that goal then.’
During Ryan’s tenure, Cork won the Brendan Martin Cup ten times in 11 years. It could be argued, though, that his greatest achievement was putting in place a structure strong enough to withstand his departure, and that of recent retirees like Juliet Murphy, Valerie Mulcahy, Elaine Harte and Nollaig Cleary.
‘He would have always said to us, “There’s nobody making you come in that gate on a Sunday morning”, you’re doing it because you love it and you’re doing it for yourself,’ Foley says.
‘We love playing football and meeting the girls three nights a week. At the end of the day, if you have a bunch of girls who are willing to give everything they have to the team, you’re in a very lucky situation and we do have that.’
Having won the league, Cork suffered a setback against Kerry in the round-robin stage of the Munster championship but then came back to defeat the Kingdom in the final. Foley, who recently completed a PhD in chemistry in UCC, is looking forward to the start of the ‘real’ championship.
‘It’s the first game that we’ll treat as if it’s an All-Ireland final, that we have to win it,’ she says.
‘The Munster final was obviously a big deal; we had a lot to prove after losing to Kerry in Macroom. We were very disappointed by that and we all had to come together and get the show back on the road.
‘This year, it’s really competitive. There have been some unpredictable results, I don’t think a lot of people would have said that Cavan and Monaghan would reach the Munster final.
‘On our side, we can’t be complacent. We’re just going to focus on ourselves and we have to go out there and give it our all.’
Foley includes hereself in that too, having recently returned after a while our with injury.
‘I had a thing called ITB Syndrome,’ she says, ‘it’s kind of unusual, it’s common in runners, apparently.
‘I wouldn’t have been doing much damage by playing, but I would have had to play through a lot of pain.
‘It was just rest that was needed so I took a few weeks off. It wasn’t getting much better so I decided to go back but since then it’s almost as if I just needed to run it out! It wasn’t anything too serious, thankfully.’