THE meeting of Cork and Mayo in the Lidl National Football League final in Parnell Park on Saturday night (7.15pm) is one of the most hotly anticipated in many years.
Mayo are the form team and have been since round one of the league when they travelled to Cork and came away with their first away win to the Rebellettes in nine years. Cork, on the other hand, had been struggling for form in the early rounds, losing three of their first four fixtures; however, Cork then hit their stride and won their way through to the final after a string of impressive performances.
Mayo have long been thought of as a one-player team but this is far from the reality. Yvonne Byrne is one of the best keepers in the country and will operate behind the best defensive unit in the country led by team captain Sarah Tierney with Martha Carter providing the experience from centre back.
Clodagh McManamon and Aileen Gilroy are a strong midfield pairing with Fiona McHale being a tireless worker from centre forward. However, there is great excitement being generated by the full forward line of Sarah Rowe, Niamh Kelly and, of course, Cora Staunton. The emergence of Rowe and Kelly has taken much of the pressure off Staunton who has been in the form of her life to date.
(Video by Jerome Quinn)
Cork return to the Lidl NFL Division 1 final for the ninth year in a row having won nine times since 2005. Their appearance in this final seemed to be in doubt right up until the final round of matches but they have now hit their stride and look every bit as impressive as always.
This team have evolved under Ephie Fitzgerald who introduces Eimear Meaney into the side along with Shauna Kelly. Hannah Looney is another new name on the team sheet as she has impressed with her direct running style since her introduction at full forward.
Orla Finn has taken over the free taking duties since the departure of Valerie Mulcahy and has really blossomed into a marquee forward. However, it is the form of the experienced members of the squad – Stack, O’Reilly, Buckley and Corkery – that has been most notable. Ciara O’Sullivan is the form player for this team and is their key player from centre forward.
Mayo must be favourites based on their form but they were given a huge scare by Kerry in their semi-final needing a last-minute winner to send them through. Cork were impressive when defeating a talented Dublin team in their semi-final and are a far better team than that defeated in Round 1 by Saturday’s opposition.
Mayo must be at their best against Cork and they will need Cora Staunton to be on top of her game against the great Bríd Stack; however, this is Cork and this is a final and even when they are underdogs they rarely lose these matches.