Here’s how the Rebels can topple the champions in All-Ireland ladies football final

December 19th, 2020 7:00 PM

By Ger McCarthy

Cork's Ciara O'Sullivan prepares to make a tackle in the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final.

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GER McCARTHY explains what Cork need to do to beat Dublin in Sunday’s All-Ireland decider. Team news here.


  1. Rob Dublin of possession – Cork’s ability to turn over possession and rob their opponents of the ball has proven one of the team’s strongest characteristics this season. But there’s little doubt that a talented back division needs to improve on their previous defensive efforts and execute more effective tackles to have any chance of denying Dublin another title. Cork boss Ephie Fitzgerald knows the reigning champions possess scorers all over the pitch so upsetting their rhythm and stopping the Dubs in their tracks, by fair means or foul, before they enter the final third gives Cork their best chance of winning.
  2. Front up – Sunday’s final will be no place for the faint-hearted. Dublin have brought a new level of physicality to ladies’ football over the past couple of seasons and their opponents will have to match it. Cork have been working hard on increasing the tempo of their game, both with and without the ball this year. Ephie Fitzgerald’s players know they will have to put their bodies on the line and win the majority of 60/40 and 50/50 balls on Sunday. Expect plenty of hits, on and off the ball, where Cork’s less experienced players will be expected to front up.
  3. Cork’s first line of defence – Cork’s defending has started with their full-forward line throughout this year’s All-Ireland championship. Saoirse Noonan, Doireann O’Sullivan and Áine Terry O’Sullivan’s work-rate has been phenomenal and will be needed once again in the face of a constant flow of Dublin attacks. There has been a noticeable increase in all six Cork forwards’ willingness to track back during wins over Kerry, Cavan and Galway. Expect to see the likes of Orla Finn and Saoirse Noonan inside their own 45 on Sunday as Cork look to plug the gaps Dublin’s backs and forwards love to drift into.

  1. Clean up the kick-outs – Martina O’Brien is enjoying another solid campaign between the sticks but will be the first player to admit that the Leesiders’ kick-outs require improvement on the team’s previous three outings. Rustiness is to be expected considering inter-county teams have played so few competitive games this term, but at times Cork were guilty of failing to find their primary target from their own short and long kick-outs during the semi-final win over Galway. Dublin boss Mick Bohan will have taken note. Equally, Cork must push up on their opponent’s kick-outs and kill Dublin’s attack at source, a tactic that worked well against Galway and Cavan.
  2. Own the centre of the pitch – Hannah Looney and Máire O’Callaghan’s midfield pairing has been one of the big positives for Ephie Fitzgerald during 2020. Full-back Róisín Phelan’s return, following a year out, allowed Looney to move from the edge of the square and into midfield alongside Mourneabbey’s O’Callaghan. That tactical shift has worked wonders as Looney and O’Callaghan (who get through a huge amount of unseen work) have brilliantly anchored the midfield zone. The Cork duo faces the hardest challenge of their inter-county careers against Lauren Magee and Jennifer Dunne on Sunday. Looney and O’Callaghan coming out on top in that particular battle would greatly increase Cork’s chances of winning.
  3. Get Melissa Duggan on the ball – The Dohenys defender is enjoying a stellar year in the Cork jersey. As part of a dynamic half-back line that loves to get forward, Duggan has been the epitome of Cork’s confident approach. Her goal in the semi-final win over Galway underlined the former All-Star’s ability to run from deep and finish off a move. It will be interesting to see who Mick Bohan asks to mark the Dohenys player in the final. 2017 Footballer of the Year Noelle Healy possesses similar traits and the fitness levels to keep up but it may take a collective Dublin effort to prevent Melissa Duggan from influencing the game’s outcome.
  4. Cork must get their match-ups right – Ephie Fitzgerald knows all about getting one over his opposite number Mick Bohan. Sunday’s final is another chapter in the intriguing history of two of country’s most decorated managers and where each will have to get their matchups right. Lyndsey Davey and Carla Rowe are two Dublin forwards Fitzgerald name-checked during the build-up to this year’s decider and with good reason. Expect Ashling Hutchings to track Davey if she starts on the forty with Melissa Duggan or possibly Shauna Kelly being asked to stick close to Rowe. Róisín Phelan is capable of quietening either Sinéad Aherne or Nicole Owens.

Cork free-taker Orla Finn scored eight frees in the semi-final against Galway.
  1. On point from frees – It goes without saying but no All-Ireland winner can expect to get over the line unless their chief free-taker is at the top of her game. Thankfully, Cork’s Orla Finn underlined her quality with a marvellous individual return of eight converted frees in the semi-final victory over Galway. Dublin’s Sinead Aherne has been equally reliant in her team’s run to this year’s decider. Both free-takers will have a big say in the outcome of Sunday’s encounter and will have to deal with wintery conditions and the unusual setting of a near empty Croke Park.
  2. The bench – Cork and Dublin possess the two most talented squads in the country when you consider the quality of player sitting on their substitutes benches. Ephie Fitzgerald was able to call upon the likes of Libby Coppinger, Orlagh Farmer, Sadhbh O’Leary, Meabh Cahalane and Daire Kiely in their previous game with Galway. Springing the right player at the right time will go long way to deciding the outcome of Cork and Dublin’s All-Ireland final. Cork will need whoever comes off the bench to make the necessary impact in either defence or attack. Fitzgerald certainly has plenty of options.
  3. Something different – Both sets of management teams and of players know one another’s set-up well so who could Ephie Fitzgerald spring as a possible surprise inclusion? Libby Coppinger made her solitary appearance off the bench against Galway while Niamh Cotter is yet to feature this season. Both are experienced campaigners and would relish the chance to start. Beara’s Clare O’Shea along with Éire Óg’s Laura and Emma Cleary would represent wildcard options but don’t rule out a surprise or two as Ephie Fitzgerald looks to wrestle the Brendan Martin Cup from Dublin’s grasp.

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