EPHIE Fitzgerald has no qualms in giving youth its fling during the national football league.
The youthful Rebels picked up their first points in Division 1 on Sunday with victory against Westmeath, and the Cork boss was delighted that the younger players stood up and made a positive impression.
‘We want to increase the strength of our panel so come the Munster championship we have 30 girls battling for a place in a competitive squad,’ Fitzgerald said.
‘Last year our panel was quite tight, and with some of the older players not back yet as well as the Mourneabbey players taking a longer break, it’s given us an opportunity to play some of our younger girls.
‘We want to increase the size of our panel and be able to bring on players that we know we can play if the need arises.
‘The most important thing for us from the league is that we try and establish three or four girls at this level that can come in and do a job for us – but you have to marry that with picking up a few points.’
Against Westmeath, the Kiely twins from Valley Rovers, Eimear and Daire, both started and impressed, Kinsale’s Sadhbh O’Leary started her first senior league game, Aghada’s Sarah Leahy caught the eye at corner back, O’Donovan Rossa’s Laura O’Mahony played 54 minutes, Chloe Collins came in for the injured Eimear Scally in the first half and did well, and Beara’s Clare O’Shea and Donoughmore’s Jenny Brew Dinan were second-half subs.
The talent is there, Fitzgerald insists, but he also says patience is needed for the new kids on the block to find their feet at senior level.
‘There is a big step up between minor and senior,’ he points out.
‘Unless you are exceptional, it’s very hard to make that jump instantly without the strength and conditioning side of it.
‘Football at this level is gone very physical so the girls need to build themselves up as well. We are not the biggest team in the world but we have buckets of football and are learning all the time. We will work on their physical condition throughout the year and hopefully some will be making their championship debuts later on.’
Physical strength is a must at the top level now, Fitzgerald points out.
‘We have a lot of 19, 20, 21 year olds and there is plenty of talent there but we must bring them on and make sure they are physically ready,’ he said.
‘When you are playing the Dublins, Mayos, Galways, you need that physical strength to carry you through. There is no doubt that the football skills are there but it takes a little bit more than that at this level now.’
Another plus for Fitzgerald and Cork is the return of Beara’s Niamh Cotter who wasn’t available last season. She’s back now and is a big addition to the Rebels.
‘Niamh is great on and off the pitch. She’s been out of it a long time so it will take a while to find her feet – but she adds to the strength of the panel,’ Fitzgerald says.
‘She’s quite a tall player too so that gives us aerial options too, and she’s a lovely footballer so we are delighted to have her back. Niamh had a great season the year before last so hopefully she will kick on now and provide us with more options in the summer.’
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