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Cork silence the doubters for now but focus switches to 'formidable task' in their way

Ephie Fitzgerald’s side sent out an ominous statement of intent yesterday through a 24-point demolition of Galway.

Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald.
Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

THERE’S NO DOUBT about it that Ephie Fitzgerald and his Cork side will be smiling from ear-to-ear this morning.

Yesterday afternoon, they ensured that their drive for seven All-Ireland senior titles in-a-row roars on following an emphatic 24-point win over Connacht champions Galway.

Ruthless is just one word that springs to mind looking back on the action. Six goals in total, a masterclass period of dominance either side of half-time in which an unanswered 3-11 was recorded, and an exhibition of shooting from Orla Finn are just some of the countless positives the Rebels can draw.

And this was all without the experience and leadership qualities of Bríd Stack at centre-back, ruled out just before throw-in with a hamstring injury she picked up at training last week.

It’s been said that this young team are going through a transitional period, that they’re not as strong as years past without key players like Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley and Deirdre O’Reilly, and that they won’t win the All-Ireland championship crown again.

They did retain their Division 1 Lidl Ladies National League title in May, although they were pushed to their very limits by Donegal. But then there was that Munster campaign, one which many would surely rather forget.

Doireann O'Sullivan and Orla Finn Doireann O'Sullivan and Orla Finn celebrate their win. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Their long unbeaten run of contesting provincial deciders — from 2004-2016 inclusive — was ended by eventual champions Kerry, and it backed up a previous loss to Waterford.

And then, the nervy win over Monaghan in the All-Ireland series two weeks ago cast further doubt over their drive for seven-in-a-row, and raised questions of their cemented position as ladies football kingpins.

Write them off at your own peril, as they say.

Ephie Fitzgerald has no doubt in his mind that his side should never be written off, and that those questions were answered yesterday.

“That seems to be going on for a long time now,” he said afterwards, when asked about these claims of a so-called demise.”We felt we let ourselves down a little bit the last day in terms of our shooting and stuff, and it probably came together today.

“To be fair to Galway, the match two weeks ago probably benefited us a lot. It sharpened us up. The girls stood up there. The younger girls, they’ve been a revelation.

“We were very clinical today and I think our forward play was magnificent. The game was over at half-time — 12 points up with a gale-force wind. The only worry was that we might slacken off a little bit and let them back into it, but we didn’t.

“To be honest, without patronising Galway, I don’t think that type of beating does much good for anybody. At the end of the day, all we can do is go out and do our jobs. I like Galway and I like their players, they have some lovely footballers.

“We’re just pleased now to be in a semi-final against Mayo in a couple of weeks time.”

Fitzgerald was full of praise for his charges — Melissa Duggan in defence among those to get an individual mention — but he was particularly impressed by his forward line.

Melissa Duggan with Caitriona Cormican Melissa Duggan and Caitriona Cormican in action. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

He even went as far to say that it probably the best attacking performance his side have produced since he took the reins in January 2016.

Cork have had quite an unfortunate year in terms of injury, with sharpshooters Doireann O’Sullivan and Eimear Scally among those to have missed out at times.

Captain Ciara O’Sullivan also took a break from the set-up to go travelling, but she’s settled back and inspired immensely through her work rate today.

Things are coming together at the right time.

“That forward line, it’s probably the first time they’ve played together all year. We’ve had a very stop-start season with girls away and with injury, we just seem to pick up injuries at difficult times.

“I suppose the pressure was off us today in the sense that, with the Monaghan game we had this relegation thing hanging over us. We’re very proud, we didn’t want to be involved in any relegation battles or anything like that so that was probably more pressure on us.

“Today they were able to express themselves a bit more. The pitch as well, it was the dream pitch to play on as a forward.

With two of their key defenders, Stack as well as Marie Ambrose out with injury, Fitzgerald hopes that they’ll both be in contention for inclusion in the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo.

Following Cork’s ominous statement of intent today, Mayo ran out six-point winners over Donegal in the second bill on the double-header.

Frank Browne’s side will come as a much tougher test, their inside forward line of Cora Staunton, Grace Kelly and Sarah Rowe combining for 2-13 of their side’s 3-14 this afternoon.

Jessica O'Shea with Olivia Divilly Jess O'Shea helps Olivia Divilly to her feet after the game. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

And Fitzgerald is fully aware of the step-up.

“Look, we know we’re in a semi-final and that’s grand but we have a formidable task ahead of us now. It’s just nice to get over.

“I suppose it’s a bit of a weird feeling really in that normally when you come to quarter-finals, you’re on tenterhooks until the last five minutes, until the last kick of the game, whereas this game was over earlier. So it’s a bit of a weird feeling that way.

“We’ll park this now, we don’t get ahead of ourselves. We’ll look at this and we’ll prepare for two weeks time. The panel, once we can keep them all fit and healthy, I think we’ll be a match for anybody.

“All-in-all delighted, but as I say, there’s another hour now before we reach Croke Park and that’s going to be difficult. We definitely got the hardest route, but we’re still on the journey.”

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