A YEAR of highs and lows at club and inter-county level has Cork football star Eimear Scally looking forward to 2020 with renewed optimism.
The elation of claiming a national league Division 1 title with Cork was offset by losing to All-Ireland champions Dublin in the last four of the championship. Add in having to tog out for her club Éire Óg less than 24 hours after that All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park, only to lose to West Cork in the county senior semi-final, and 2019 has been something of a rollercoaster for UL student Scally.
Yet, the year closed on a high with Scally scoring 1-6 as her college defeated DCU to win the Gourmet Food Parlour Ladies HEC Football Division 1 title. Add to that, Ephie Fitzgerald’s return as Cork senior manager and the Cork senior ladies look in decent shape heading into 2020.
‘Having continuity is definitely important,’ Scally said.
‘Ephie did brilliantly the first year he came in and helped us win an All-Ireland with the group of girls that was there at the time. A good shot of those players, the ones that had backboned previous All-Ireland successes, stepped away or retired not long after that. As a result, Cork senior football has been in transition for a year or two since then.
‘Ephie is bringing in a lot of new and very talented people in with him. An extra one or two new faces will benefit the senior panel and give a lot of the younger players a chance too. He will be raring to go once again this year.
‘Obviously, we will miss the people that have been with us on the management team for the last few years, but every inter-county set up goes through changes like this. We will always be thankful to the likes of James Masters who have now stepped away. I know Paddy O’Shea is eager to get going as coach even though he has been with us before (as goalkeeping coach), he has a lot of fresh ideas and will be introducing new things. I am excited about Cork’s prospects for the coming year.’
The past season saw Cork go out in the penultimate round of the All-Ireland to their great rivals and eventual champions Dublin. But, as important as winning national league and Munster titles were, Scally would trade both for the Brendan Martin Cup.
‘Looking back, we won two out of the three titles we would have been going for,’ the UL student said.
‘To be honest, if you said we had to lose the league and Munster titles to become All-Ireland champions, I would have taken that. It was a positive year but with a disappointing end. Going out in an All-Ireland semi-final when you know you should have been doing better was disappointing.
‘A couple of things went against us on the day and as a unit, team and management, we let ourselves down. It was disappointing to exit the All-Ireland championship the way we did but, in fairness, Dublin were brilliant on the day and probably deserved to win.’
That begs the question, just how far are Cork away from toppling Dublin to win another All-Ireland? Scally’s response tells you all you need to know about the determination within the Rebels camp heading into the new season.
‘I don’t believe we are that far off Dublin at all,’ Scally commented.
‘I know league and championship are different, but we fought doggedly against them (Dublin) in the league semi-final. That’s something we lacked a bit when it came to the All-Ireland semi-final. I just don’t believe we are that far off Dublin.
‘Obviously, they have been champions the last three years and deservedly so. We could be having this same conversation at the end of next year again! Without being cocky about it, I am expecting us to strive to become All-Ireland champions next year. That’s what we as Cork players should always be looking to achieve anyway.’
A complete overhaul of the 2020 TG4 All-Ireland Senior Ladies Football Championship, including the scrapping of the Leinster championship, could yet see Cork facing off against the All-Ireland champions in the group stages. It is a new approach but not something that was necessarily needed according to Scally.
‘I don’t think there was much need for shaking up the championship structure,’ Scally concluded.
‘It appears the LGFA are heading towards something like a Super 8s structure and replacing the All-Ireland quarter-finals. What the changes mean is that there is no room for messing around when it comes to that stage of the championship. You must go out and win your games. I suppose it might be annoying for some teams who end up playing their final group matches with nothing on the line.
‘I am happy that we will have a lot of championship-calibre games though. The fact the Munster champions will be in the same group as the reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin has a lot of people talking.
‘We will have to wait and see how things pan out but that has the look of one very difficult qualifying group. Whichever way you look at it we can’t relax at any time and will need to be ready to go from day one.
‘I feel a bit sorry for Dublin with the axing of the Leinster championship. I know they were winning it handily enough the last number of years, but it is still a Leinster final and a trophy that meant a lot to them.
‘From our own point of view, Munster should be quite competitive this year especially with Tipperary back up senior where they should be.’