A FIVE-POINT win over All-Ireland champions Dublin in Mallow on Sunday ensured that Cork finished second in Division 1 of the Lidl NFL – setting up a semi-final tie against the same opposition.
Having lost two of their first three games, the Rebels have bounced back well, all the more impressive given that the league has been used to blood new players. Manager Ephie Fitzgerald is satisfied with the progress made.
‘It was a good performance, particularly with so many young players,’ he says.
‘For a lot of the younger girls, it was a big experience for them.
‘The league has really brought those players on. The twins (Daire and Eimear Kiely), I thought, were particularly good and Sarah O’Shea, playing her first match, acquitted herself very well, Laura O’Mahony had a good game too. Rhona Ní Bhuachalla too, considering it was her first game in a long time.
‘There are five or six players there that it’ll just take time and, obviously, Dublin were missing a lot of players too, so we’re not under any illusions but, at the same time, it was good to give them confidence that they could compete.
‘Physically, they’re bigger than us, they’re very strong, but with their age-profile, they’ve had that conditioning with a number of years. It takes time to catch up, it doesn’t just happen overnight.
‘We’re gone from the days when you could walk out of minor and into senior, the transition isn’t as easy as it used to be, unless you’re exceptionally good. We’ve some very good footballers, which is a great start.’
While Cork had the Indian sign over Dublin during the period of dominance where they won 11 All-Irelands in 12 years, a win here avoided a third straight loss against the Metropolitans. However, Fitzgerald doesn’t think that there was an inferiority complex developing and is looking forward to renewing acquaintance the weekend after next.
‘We went to Dublin last year with only 18 players and they beat us by a point,’ he says, ‘I don’t think there’s a whole lot between the teams, to be honest.
‘It’s just that they have more experience and they know how to close out games better. Obviously, they’re still the team to beat and, if you add Sinéad Aherne to that, Nicole Owens, Lyndsey Davey, they’re going to be more formidable, there’s no disputing that.
‘We made quite a number of changes too and you could make a case for either ahead of the next day. It’s another important match for us and the development of the girls, which has been the focus all year.
‘Our panel is getting stronger all the time, that’s good for us going forward, whereas last year we were struggling a bit for numbers. It augurs well for the future.
‘We’ll be using a lot of the younger girls again the next day. The only way for them to improve is to expose them to games like this.’
Áine Terry O’Sullivan (hamstring), Orla Finn (concussion), Doireann O’Sullivan (back) and Emma Spillane (illness) are Cork’s main concerns ahead of the semi-final, but Sunday showed the strength in depth.
Niamh Cotter and Marie O’Callaghan got the goals while the returning Rhona Ní Bhuachalla accounted for six points. However, Dublin had a great start as Carla Rowe goaled in the first minute but O’Callaghan’s 11th-minute green flag made it 1-1 each.
By half-time, Cork led by 1-4 to 1-3 and Ní Bhuachalla had two points on the resumption, with the same three-point pertaining at the three-quarter mark, Cork 1-8 to 1-5 ahead.
When Cotter struck for Cork’s second goal, they looked comfortable but Dublin’s Niamh McEvoy had two frees to cut the gap. When Siobhán Killeen got a second goal for them, there was just a point in it but but Cork held out.
The sides will do it all again, while Galway face Donegal in the other semi-final.
Cork: R Ní Bhuachalla 0-6 (4f), N Cotter 1-2, M O’Callaghan 1-0, C O’Sullivan 0-2, O Farmer, L Coppinger, E Scally 0-1 each.
Dublin: N McEvoy 0-5 (4f), C Rowe 1-2, S Killeen 1-0, N Healy 0-1.
Cork: L Crowley; C O’Shea, H Looney, E Meaney; D Kiely, A Hutchings, E Kiely; M O’Callaghan, N Cotter; O Farmer, C O’Sullivan, L O’Mahony; L Coppinger, S O’Leary, R Ní Bhuachalla. Subs: C Moore for L Crowley (half-time), S Kelly for E Kiely, M Duggan for D Kiely (both 40), S Noonan for O’Leary, E Scally for O’Mahony (both 50), L O’Mahony for Ní Bhuachalla (58).
Dublin: R Fleming; É Rutledge, O Carey, E McDonagh; S McGoldrick, S Finnegan, A Kane; N Hetherton, S McGrath; C Rowe, S Woods, K Sullivan; S Killeen, N Healy, N McEvoy. Subs: H O’Neill for Sullivan (6), R Ruddy for E McDonagh (12), C Trant for Fleming, O Nolan for Woods, L Magee for S Finnnegan (all half-time), M Byrne for Carey (46), L Collins for McGrath (55).
Referee: S Mulvihill (Kerry).