Can Cork finally get the better of deadly Dublin?
On a weekend when the various provincial championships get underway, the curtain will come down on the Lidl Ladies Football League with old rivals Cork and Dublin meeting in Croke Park on Saturday night.
In recent weeks both the Camogie and Ladies Football associations have shipped criticism - justified in some cases - for their failure to complete some outstanding championships from last year, but they must be commended for their willingness to finish out their league competitions with finals in all divisions.
By contrast, the decision by the GAA not to play finals in my opinion devalued the competition and to all intents and purposes the group games were glorified challenge games. One more week of finals would surely not have impeded on the schedule of those counties that reached the finals.
Cork v Dublin
“We are delighted to be in the final and really looking forward to playing Dublin and the fact that it’s in Croke Park with supporters and particular family will really make it much better,” says Cork captain and goalkeeper Martina O’Brien.
It’s a third meeting in recent months between the two best and most consistent teams in the country and the group game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh a few weeks ago was a cracker, even if Dublin - like they did in the All-Ireland Final back in December - won out.
That said, Martina while disappointed at losing said they were pleased with some aspects of their display. “Well it was a crazy sort of game, we were behind, got in front lost the lead again and could very nearly nicked a draw at least in the end.”
They learned “that you cannot switch off against a team of Dublin’s quality, if you do you will be punished, but equally we showed we can match them in most aspects of the game”.
Martina also said: “We were sloppy at times and gave away a few scores, but we learned a lot and worked on a lot of things since then.”
Martina is really looking forward to Saturday: “without a doubt, we are after all,” she said with a wry smile, “the league champions, (Cork won it in 2019, last years was not finished) and we would like to retain our title”.
For manager Ephie Fitzgerald the championship is the priority but Saturday’s final will help them prepare for that.
“It’s a great game to be playing in, we have a developing team and playing Dublin will help us develop further and with it being in Croke Park you can’t buy that type of preparation.”
While he has one eye on the championship opener against Meath in two weeks time, it does not lessen their ambition on Saturday. “Not in the least, it’s a league final, there’s silverware on offer and we would dearly love to win it.”
Acknowledging that in terms of experience they are a little behind Dublin, Ephie is pleased with their progress and the style they are now playing. “Yes Dublin are more experienced but we are getting there with the players we have and also our style, we have pace in our team and we try to move the ball quickly and so far it’s working but we will know a bit more after Saturday night.”
Ephie also confirmed that apart from the long term absentees that both Maria Ambrose and Aine Terry O’Sullivan are in contention for Saturday.
This is the acid test for Cork. Dublin are laced with quality and experience and the addition of former Ireland Rugby 7’s player Hannah Tyrell has added another dimension to their team, she scored 2-7 in the group game. Throw in Sinead Aherne, Lynsey Davey, Jennifer Dunne, Niamh Hetherton, Orlagh Nolan, Abbey Shiels and Carla Rowe and it’s an indication of the task facing Cork.
Cork have quality all over the field but the little errors that were evident in the Dublin and Donegal games will need to be remedied if they are to finally get the better of Dublin.
Melissa Duggan, Erika O’Shea, Shauna Kelly are solid defenders, Hannah Looney and Maria O’Callaghan will anchor midfield, while in attack Orla Finn, Brid O’Sullivan, Sadhbh O’Leary have been in excellent form of late.
However the player that makes this Cork team tick is centre-forward Ciara O’Sullivan. Her form to date has been sublime, her distribution, work rate and scoring prowess key components of Cork’s progress to the final, if Ciara can deliver on Saturday, Cork will be in a strong position.
It will take a huge effort from Cork if they are to win. Physically Dublin are a powerful side and that plus the talented Tyrell might just tip the scales Dublin’s way. Cork play Dublin on Saturday at 7.30pm in Croke Park.
With the focus still on inter-county, there is a limited number of games in the 2020 county championships, mostly in the B grade.
The first semi-final of the Junior A Football does go ahead in Mallow on Saturday night at 7pm, it’s Boherbue v Passage with the Duhallow side slightly fancied to make it to the final. The second semi-final cannot be played until the Cork footballers’ season is over as Damien Gore is a key player for Kilmacabea for their clash with Iveleary.
One other important game is the Intermediate Hurling Round Robin relegation meeting of Meelin and Argideen Rangers in Páirc Uí Rinn also on Saturday at 7pm. Glen Rovers are the third team in this equation - they play Argideen Rangers a week later.
Busy weekend with three Cork teams in action in their respective Munster championships campaigns.
Lixnaw on Saturday at 7.15pm is the venue for the Junior clash of Cork and Kerry.
On Sunday in Páirc Uí Rinn again at 7.15pm, in the Senior Championship, it’s Cork v Tipperary, which could very well have been the league final as both lost their semi-finals narrowly.
It’s an important game for both, probably more so for Cork ahead of a relatively easy group in the All-Ireland Championship, Paudie Murray will welcome the test and a possible final appearance, injuries and the dual players involvement in Saturday’s final might shape the team selection.
That might not be a bad thing as it will get game time into the squad players, against a good Tipperary side, which should make for a lively game.
In the Munster Under 16 A Championship, Cork play Waterford in the WIT Arena on Sunday at 2pm.
Cork are not involved this weekend, but they will be keeping an eye on the three games that are going ahead, particularly the football QF between Limerick and Waterford in the LIT Gaelic Grounds on Saturday at 3pm. Cork play the winners on 10 July, the expectation is that Limerick will progress.
Killarney is the venue for the Clare v Kerry QF at 7pm on Saturday and no prizes for guessing who will win this one, Tipperary await the winners in the semi-final.
In hurling, Thurles with 200 in attendance on Sunday will host the clash of Clare and Waterford, the latter have a few injury worries, Conor Prunty the main concern, Clare have been building momentum and if Tony Kelly hits form they could prevail.
Well done to Eire Og on their superb win in the Senior A 2020 Football Final win over a very disappointing Mallow side, in fact had the Ovens side taken their chances the margin would have been much bigger than the nine points.
It was a special night for two players Dermot O’Herlihy and Daniel Goulding as they now have the four county football medals won with the club: Junior, Intermediate, Premier Intermediate and Senior A. It’s promotion to the top grade football in the county and into a group with Castlehaven, Carbery Rangers and Newcestown.
Best wishes also to Ciaran Sheehan as injury forces this talented player to call time on his inter-county career.
A special weekend also for Lough Rovers who captured the County C Football title with a comprehensive win over Freemount.
Next week, it’s Cork v Limerick in the Munster Hurling semi-final, what a game to look forward to!