BY DECLAN ROONEY
CORK ladies football manager Ephie Fitzgerald is taking a more hands-on role in 2020.
The Nemo Rangers man dramatically quit as Cork manger in the aftermath of their TG4 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Dublin in August 2019, but two months later he was back in the job after he took some time to reassess his situation.
Facing into a fifth year in the role, Fitzgerald has so far been unable to repeat the glorious Cork All-Ireland final win of his first season in charge, but with a new backroom team behind him for 2020 and a renewed vigour for the job he is confident that results will flow.
This season Fitzgerald will be taking on a bigger role in the direct coaching of the squad after a few seasons of delegating duties. Former Cork forward James Masters has left the backroom team and has been replaced by Paddy O’Shea and performance coach Conor Quinlan, while there have been alterations made to the strength and conditioning team too.
After successfully introducing a number of younger players last year, Fitzgerald wants to help them make the step up.
‘I’ll get a bit more involved in the coaching myself this year. I took a step back from that last year, maybe the last couple of years I’d have been more hands-off than I’d normally be. Maybe I was a bit mentally tired and took it for granted a little bit too.
‘I’d certainly have that zest for it again and I’m looking forward to the year and getting the most out of the girls. You need that zest, well I do anyway, to function properly.
‘We have started up again, the girls have started back in the gym and we have all the young ones again coming through. Hopefully some of them will make it.
‘But it’s a big step up now from minor to senior. It’s no longer the case that there is a smooth transition. Take Orla Finn as an example, the amount of weights she can lift now is incredible compared to what she could do three years ago. That’s built up over time, you can’t just switch it on.’
With Fitzgerald back in harness all of last year’s squad have committed for 2020, which is a decent starting point. After helping Mourneabbey retain their All-Ireland club title former captain Ciara O’Sullivan has decided to sit out most of the Lidl National Football League, but she is expected back in time for the TG4 Munster championship. The dedication of his players never fails to shock the former Limerick and Clare coach.
‘Last year’s girls are a year on now and the one thing we have in Cork is that they’re all committed and focused. They love wearing the Cork jersey and that’s a great start.
‘Some of the sacrifices the girls have made are phenomenal, particularly by the West Cork girls. Then Melissa Duggan comes down on the train from Dublin on a Wednesday and then gets the train back up again the next morning at 5 o’clock. That sort of stuff...you can’t buy that kind of loyalty.
‘I’d hope that we will be closer this year, we’re in it to win it, not to make up the numbers. We want to push on. Dublin they have done three in a row now and will surely look to win four. They are full of confidence.
‘Last year we won the league and the Munster championship, so there is only one other cup out there but we didn’t win the big one. But I don’t think we’re that far off. We have had such a huge change over the last few years, it’s to the credit of the girls coming in, they’ve given everything. We couldn’t ask for any more.’