CORK ladies’ football manager Ephie Fitzgerald is optimistic that the Rebels can use their Lidl NFL campaign to integrate new players into the squad.
Last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists begin their league campaign with a home clash against Galway in Mallow on Saturday. With members of the All-Ireland club-winning Mourneabbey side – Ciara and Doireann O’Sullivan, Eimear Meaney and Máire O’Callaghan - given an extended break, it’s a chance for fringe panel members to stake their claim and Fitzgerald is hoping they can do that.
‘It’s no longer the case that a player can go straight from minor to senior, unless they’re absolutely exceptional,’ Fitzgerald says.
‘It’s too big of a jump now in terms pf the physicality and strength and conditioning, so you need to use the league to bed players in.
‘The Mourneabbey girls, we’ve given them time off until the end of February and we’ve brought in a good few of the minors from last year. We’ll have a young team team out but we’re looking at it from a long-term point of view.
‘It’s important to try out players like Laura O’Mahony from O’Donovan Rossa, the Kiely twins [Daire and Eimear] from Valley Rovers, Ciara McCarthy from St Val’s and Chloé Collins from Domtarriffe.
‘The main thing is to try to unearth new talent and the progress made by West Cork in the county championship has been a help that way. The more competitive the senior championship is, the better.’ Dublin beat Cork in last year’s All-Ireland final to win back-to-back titles. While Fitzgerald doesn’t necessarily feel panel depth is where the Leinster side had the edge, he is keen to ensure that Cork have options.
‘I think Dublin are quite reliant on their first 15,’ he says, ‘but if you look at last year’s final, they had more experience, I think their average age was 28.
‘We struggled a bit in the league last year as we had girls who were doing their Leaving Cert so this year we want to have a bigger panel to pick from, to ensure that there is strong competition for places.
‘We had a weekend away in Kilkenny recently and that was very beneficial, it was good to get the younger girls used to being in the panel, sometimes it can be intimidating to come into the set-up alongside so many established names.
‘It was a good learning curve and we’ll try to carry that into the league and give game-time to as many players as we can.’ Galway reached the All-Ireland semi-finals last year, losing to Dublin, and Fitzgerald expects a tough game.
‘We’re looking forward to it,’ he says, ‘we’re glad to be at home and we like Mallow, but Galway are strong.
‘They have some very good footballers but I’m not sure how much work they’ve done, like ourselves they’ll probably be missing a few especially as the O’Connor Cup is on too.
‘It’s a tough one to start but we’ll do what we can, we’ve only been back properly since mid-January and have just games played.
‘We’ll see how it goes, hopefully there’s a long year ahead.’