By Jennifer O'Leary
WITH two wins from two games, Cork are sitting pretty at the top of their Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League Division 1 group with maximum points – and in a good position to qualify for the business end of the competition.
Wins against Galway and Wexford so far have Cork off to the ideal start and they now face Tipperary and Offaly in their final two group games.
Some say that winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Yes, this will be Cork’s mentality come June in the height of championship, but the league campaign can be utilised for far more important things, more significant in fact that winning silverware at this time of the year. Here are ten lessons Cork will hope to learn from this year’s league campaign.
Blooding of new/younger players: Last season saw Cork contest both All-Ireland senior and intermediate finals. We have seen before that both grades training together can prove beneficial to both squads, especially for the intermediate team who reap the rewards of high-intensity training at the top level. Cork will look to some of these players to make the step up to senior inter-county camogie and will experiment during the league to see strengthen their senior panel.
To identify the necessary hunger and drive: It’s easy to become stagnant and find yourself going through the motions with no real push or drive during a season, especially at the beginning of the year. Cork have experienced success on and off over the past number of years. They have to find something to propel them forward once again to new heights this year and often the league can indicate how ravenous a squad may or may not be.
Management teams and their players are quick to sense a hunger within a team and if they feel it is absent early in the year, they will work hard to try and bring out that spark come championship time. Following a league campaign, teams can often have an eight-week window where they seek inspiration, a reason to make such a huge commitment.
Homework for management: Management teams all over the country would tell you that no squad, no final 15 or number 12 is set in stone in February, not to mind June. What the league allows is for players to prove their worth, to show off and hopefully find some place within the starting team.
Cork are now faced with the challenge of replacing players who are no longer in the squad. Last season’s captain fantastic Rena Buckley and the versatile Eimear O’Sullivan are two players that we don’t know yet if they’ll be back. If these players don’t return, who will slot into their positions? Perhaps the league will assist management in solving this puzzle.
Work on the weaker points of last year: Playing with full focus over 60 minutes was something that was lacking in the Cork camogie team last year. We saw it in the All Ireland semi-final where Galway appeared to be making a significant comeback in the second half and Cork had to defend like never before to edge into the final.
Cork need to push on when they’re ahead and be relentless to ensure they are not in a panic situation. Not only is it difficult for the players, it causes heart palpitations for the spectators! While the team won’t have a consistent line-up in every game of the league, this attitude and complete concentration is something Paudie Murray will be trying to instil into all his potential players in preparation for tougher games in the summer.
Build on the strengths of 2017: A shining light of the 2017 league and championship campaign was undoubtedly Enniskeane’s Orla Cronin. She had the best year of her life on the camogie field last year and really showcased herself as a confident and skilful half forward who has etched out a regular position for herself within the team. Amy O’Connor was also one to watch and is growing in strength and ability as every year passes. There are stalwarts of the team in the accurate Orla Cotter and the reliable Gemma O’Connor who are experienced and will bring the younger players to greater heights this year.
Finding who can withstand the pace: The league part of the season can also be the most gruelling when it comes to training. Ultimately, pre-season training is still in full swing and players will be trying to juggle tough conditioning gym sessions with regular camogie training as well as accounting for the league games on tough terrain. This is an arduous time of year and often players who are unable to withstand the pace and commitment are identified fairly easily. Management will be taking note of this while players themselves may feel the pressure of wanting to impress.
Treat the league as a learning process instead of a winning process: As I have mentioned earlier, the league doesn’t really tell the real story of how a team is doing and what to expect from them come championship. Most teams that win the league can often fall away in the later stages of the summer games. The league should be utilised as a learning process. There is no peaking in February and only the most experienced teams can truly get this timing right. For this Cork team, the league is just a practice, the championship is the real deal.
Create a strong bond between the players: Every year brings new players to the fold and so a familiarity and camaraderie needs to be established between them. The league can help to build a trust between each player and instil a belief that all players from one to 25 will have a role to play in the season.
Set out a signal of intent: Cork are the All-Ireland champions and so they will also want their league campaign to express their aims and objectives for the year. They will be sending out a message to the other ten teams that ‘We are Cork’ and ‘We have our eye on the prize again this year’.
New captains bring new ideas: Aoife Murray of Cloughduv has stepped up as captain this year and she will be immense. Aoife was always very vocal in the dressing room and the huddle, not to mind from the goal-line area where her presence was felt all over the pitch. No doubt Aoife will work closely with her brother Paudie to ensure no stone is left unturned in the year ahead. She is a strong character and the respect players have for her will grow from the league into the heights of the season.