THERE is a lot to unpack from Shane Ronayne’s first year as Cork senior ladies football manager.
The Rebels experienced plenty of highs including defeating eventual All-Ireland runners-up Kerry in the Munster series, and scorching All-Ireland semi-finalists Donegal.
Unfortunately, there were as many lows. Suffering an early-season hammering at Croke Park to Dublin in the league was as frustrating as exiting the All-Ireland championship at the quarter-finals stage to Mayo.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19TH: CROKE PARK
In retrospect, Cork’s chastening 2-15 to 2-3 Lidl LGFA National League loss at the hands of Dublin proved a watershed moment.
It was early in the season and the new Cork management team and players had been working together only a short time, but the manner in which Mick Bohan’s side cruised to a 12-point victory raised plenty of alarm bells.
‘The national league loss to Dublin was only our second competitive game and we had played one challenge game against Meath prior to it,’ Shane Ronayne explained.
‘We were missing a lot of experienced players but the girls themselves were disappointed. We were disappointed with our (lack of) performance. It was a watershed moment for us. Everyone realised what had to be done following that defeat.
‘The players were embarrassed and as a management team, we were embarrassed for them and ourselves too. There was no work-rate, the attitude wasn’t great and a lack of focus from some players in the dressing-room beforehand.
‘Dublin were coming into the game having lost an All-Ireland final the previous year. They were determined to lay down a marker and from knowing Dublin manager Mick Bohan down through the years, he was probably trying to put me in my place.’
There was no ranting or raving in the Cork dressing-room immediately afterwards. Everyone within the Cork senior set-up knew such a dismal display wasn’t good enough.
A few drinks on the bus back to Leeside helped draw a line in the sand. Cork and their new manager were ready to go again. Later that year, a win over a strong Dublin line-up following a hard-hitting challenge game in Portarlington underlined the Rebels progress.
SATURDAY, JUNE 19TH: CLANE, KILDARE
Cork entered the TG4 All-Ireland championship group stages having amassed 6-21 in overcoming Waterford and Kerry to claim the 2022 Munster LGFA SFC. Another victory over Waterford preceded a showdown with an improving Donegal, who would go on to knock Dublin out of the All-Ireland before falling to reigning champions Meath at the penultimate stage.
There was so much to admire in Cork’s first-half display that afternoon in Clane. The Rebels moved the ball at pace and with conviction, opening up a Donegal defence for 11 scores. The Ulster team fought back during a disjointed second period but Shane Ronayne’s side were full value for their 2-12 to 1-10 success.
‘I think the quality of football we produced in that first 25 minutes against Donegal was unbelievable,’ Ronayne stated.
‘A lot of people said to me afterwards that it was the best they had seen Cork play in a long time. Free-flowing, the inter-play and work rate out of everybody, and we got some brilliant scores from all over the pitch. ‘Our goals were fantastic and were ‘team’ goals, something we had been working hard on all year. I have to give Orla Finn credit for our first goal because she missed a similar chance in the Munster final. We criticised her for not going full-blooded for it on that occasion. Orla learned from it and stuck away a similar chance against Donegal.
‘We played some fantastic football in a game we had heard Donegal were going to beat us. Ten points up at half-time, the referee had a bit of a nightmare in the second half and Donegal got it back to three.
‘Things were going against us but the girls responded. We kept Donegal scoreless for the last ten minutes. That win gave us belief but, symptomatic of our year, we still didn’t get a full 60-minute performance. We knew that getting to the business end of the season that 40-minute performances wouldn’t do.’
SATURDAY, JULY 9TH: CUSACK PARK, ENNIS
Simply put, this was a day to forget. Defensive slip-ups coupled with an inability to conjure up a goal saw Mayo end Cork’s interest in the 2022 TG4 All-Ireland championship following a 2-13 to 0-17 quarter-final defeat in Ennis.
‘We entered that Mayo game in good form having beaten Kerry and Donegal,’ Ronayne commented.
‘Our shooting was fantastic but it was the first time all year that we didn’t score a goal. The two big things we left ourselves down with were our tackle count which was half what it normally is. The other, our GPS statistics, basically how hard we work, was collectively down 20km on the Donegal game.
‘On the ball, we were very, very good and scored 17 points. Off the ball, defensively, the work rate wasn’t there.
‘Since then, we have looked at everything, training sessions leading up the Mayo game, were they at the right intensity? Did we have one eye on Kerry in a semi-final the following week?
‘Coming off the pitch that day against Mayo, the fact we didn’t deliver on those two important elements, tackling and work rate, was very disappointing. Those are the things that win you games.’
As for the immediate future, Ronayne’s blueprint for an extended Cork senior panel, already back in training ahead of the 2023 campaign, is crystal clear.
Expect a lot of changes on this year’s senior inter-county panel where extended national league and Munster (rumoured to be round-robin) competitions will hand further opportunities to fringe players and newcomers from the county’s All-Ireland minor winning set-up.
‘We want no more days where Cork is either outfought or outrun,’ the Cork manager stated.
‘Those are the boxes that must be ticked every day we go out. I go back to that (group) win over Donegal. That was an example of where we want Cork football to be. That is the benchmark.
‘For 2023, we need to be hitting all the benchmarks we are setting. We need to marry the two, free-flowing football and hitting our benchmarks. That is our goal for the coming year.’