BY KIERAN McCARTHY
CORK’S number one has backed the county’s new ladies’ senior football manager to make a big impact this year.
Ephie Fitzgerald was named as the new Cork ladies’ boss last week, taking over from the legendary Eamonn Ryan who had guided the county to an unprecedented ten All-Ireland titles in 11 seasons.
Nemo Rangers man Fitzgerald met the Cork ladies squad for the first time last week, and goalkeeper Martina O’Brien – who was in stunning form in last Sunday’s league defeat to Mayo – told The Southern Star that Fitzgerald made an instant impression.
‘Ephie’s reputation speaks for itself. He has won so much as a coach and he is very respected in the GAA, so it’s great to have someone with his experience come in,’ explained the Ballinascarthy woman (26), who has been Cork’s number one for the last four seasons.
‘He was in to talk to us last Wednesday night (week) and he was impressive. We’re looking forward to working with him. He will have new ideas and bring something different to the table.
‘I’ve no doubt this will be a smooth transition, especially with Pat (O’Leary) and Frankie (Honohan) there as well to help out, and Con O’Sullivan is there too, so there’s that consistency as well. We can’t wait to start fully with Ephie.’
Fitzgerald wasn’t on the line for the Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 defeat (2-8 to 0-7) against Mayo in Mallow last Sunday, as he had prior commitments with the Waterford senior footballers.
With an impressive CV that includes guiding Nemo Rangers to four Cork SFC titles in a row, and working with Clare, Limerick and now Waterford as a coach at senior inter-county level, and two years as Cork minor football manager, O’Brien and her teammates are looking forward to learning as much as they can off their new manager.
‘Ephie will have a wealth of experience. He has been involved in various different teams over the years and he will have learned something new from all of those roles, so we are very lucky that he is coming to work with us,’ O’Brien said.
‘After ten years of working under the same manager, like many of the team did under Eamonn, you learn so much every year, but this will be different and I have no doubt that we will all learn something new. Ephie will bring something different to the table that, maybe, we didn’t have last year and that can only be a good thing.’
With All-Ireland winner Ronan Clarke taking the reins in Armagh and now Fitzgerald coming on board with Cork, it’s helping to raise the profile of the ladies’ game even more. O’Brien agrees.
‘The ladies’ game has come so far in the last few years. There are more people watching the finals, the game is getting more coverage and it helps too when high-profile figures from the men’s game get involved in the ladies’ game and take over ladies’ teams. That does raise the profile,’ the Cork shot-stopper said.
‘The likes of Ephie and Ronan Clarke feel that they can bring something to ladies’ football that isn’t already there or that they can learn something from ladies’ football. There isn’t a big difference between men’s football and ladies’ football, with the only difference being that you’re working with women now rather than men, so maybe you have to be a bit more politically correct!’
This Sunday, Cork travel to neighbours Kerry looking to get the defence of their Division 1 crown back on track after that loss to Mayo. For O’Brien, who works as a massage therapist in Tralee, she’d love to get one over her county of employment, but that’s easier said than done.
‘It’s always nice to play Kerry and we know that we get nothing easy off them. The games have been very close the last few years and it will be the same on Sunday,’ O’Brien said.
‘We will had another training session during the week and the game against Mayo will have stood to us as well, so we’ll go down to Kerry and try our best.
‘Kerry lost to Dublin in their first game last weekend (2-14 to 1-6) so they’ll be eager to get up and running, and we’re in the same boat.
‘It was a tough start against Mayo but to be honest we didn’t have much done – only three training sessions. We only came together a week and a half ago to start off, and it probably wasn’t the best preparation for the league but that’s just the way it went.’
While O’Brien – saving a first-half penalty and pulling off further outstanding saves – had a superb game in goal for Cork against Mayo, the Connacht side were deserving winners with Cora Staunton leading the way with 1-6 in what was Mayo’s first win over the Rebels in nine seasons.
Mayo led 1-5 to 0-3 at half time, while Cork – without Brid Stack, Valerie Mulcahy, Deirdre O’Reilly and Geraldine O’Flynn – played second best for large periods of the second half.
Mayo: C Staunton 1-6 (1f, 0-1 pen); S Rowe 0-2; R Kearns 1-0.
Cork: E Farmer 0-3; B Corkery, O Finn, C O’Sullivan 0-1 each; D O’Sullivan 0-1f.
Mayo: Y Byrne; L Ryder, S Tierney, O Conlon; C Hegarty, M Carter, N O’Mahony; D Hughes, Clodagh McManamon; A Gilroy, F McHale, L McManamon; S Rowe, N Kelly, C Staunton.
Subs used: R Kearns for L McManamon (24), G Kelly for C Hegarty (47), Ciara McManamon for Clodagh McManamon (60).
Cork: M O’Brien; M Ambrose, R Phelan, M O’Callaghan; V Foley, R Buckley, O Farmer; B Corkery, A Walsh; D O’Sullivan, A Hutchings, C O’Sullivan; E Farmer, A T O’Sullivan, O Finn.
Subs used: B O’Sullivan for A Walsh (41), S Cotter for D O’Sullivan (50, inj), E Meaney for A Hutchings (53), M Corkery for V Foley (57).
Referee: S Mulvihill (Kerry).