Rising Rebels

Cork bid for five-in-a-row without captain but Fitzgerald confident in 'new group'

Two of the O’Sullivan sisters will miss Sunday’s league decider, while a decision is expected from Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley next week.

CORK WILL HAVE to line out in this weekend’s league final showdown without two of their eminent O’Sullivan sisters.

Gerry and Ina O'Sullivan with their daughters Meabh, Roisin, Ciara and Doireann O'Sullivan The O'Sullivan family following their 2015 All-Ireland win. Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

Captain and key forward Ciara, and Roisin — who had been starting at centre half back earlier in the campaign — have both gone travelling and are set to miss Sunday’s Lidl Ladies National League Division 1 final against Donegal.

“That was prearranged so we knew that was coming,” Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald confirmed on Tuesday.

“But Doireann is back fit now so hopefully one sister will compensate for the loss of the other one. Obviously Ciara is a big loss to us, and Roisin. They’ve been going well. But that’s it, we have a good panel and we used it this year so we’ve no complaints really.”

The captaincy is set to remain with county champions Mourneabbey and within the O’Sullivan family as 22-year-old Doireann takes over from her older sister for the day.

Fitzgerald, whose first piece of silverware in charge came in the form of last year’s league title, continued to say that the two travelling sisters may miss the first round of championship but “they’ll be back in five or six weeks.”

From the outside looking in, the six-in-a-row All-Ireland champions may look like they’ve been going through a transitional period as of late.

With dual duo Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley yet to decide on their inter-county future, and Deirdre O’Reilly having retired, there have been opportunities for younger players to earn starting positions.

Ciara O'Sullivan with the trophy as the team celebrates Ciara O'Sullivan will miss Sunday's decider. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

While the more established figures of Bríd Stack, Annie Walsh and Aisling Barrett have all just recently committed to one more year, rising stars like Eimear Scally and Niamh Cotter have been thriving since the league opener.

“People at the start of the year probably thought Cork were going to struggle this year in the league because of so much experience missing, but we haven’t and we’ve been playing well.

“That is very pleasing and it’s kind of a new group in lots of ways. I think in the league matches, six or seven was the most of the All-Ireland team we used in any one game so from that point of view it’s very pleasing.

“For some people I suppose it’s probably surprising. They saw Cork as maybe going through a bit of a transitional period. It’s early days yet. But I think the new girls have certainly bedded in well, and they’ve got a lot of experience now in the league.

“Eimear [Scally] is a breath of fresh air to us, to be honest about it. She’s a fabulous player and has a great attitude. But they all have that. We’re blessed in having Bríd Stack back and Annie Walsh and Aisling Barrett. It’s important to have that bit of experience as well, especially when games are going against you a little bit. Bríd is a real leader, so we’re delighted to have her back.

Ephie Fitzgerald Ephie Fitzgerald. Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

“Niamh [Cotter] has a phenomenal engine, she’s up and down that field and she’s a very good footballer. She’s a big bonus for us, as is Jess O’Shea but you could go through…Melissa Duggan, Emma [Spillane], lots of girls there, Libby Coppinger, who are young but natural footballers. It’s just moulding them into what we want to do and as well as that, having the confidence.

“You can be a bit overawed by what’s gone on in the past. There’s very little discussion from us about past victories, it’s the next game, the next training session. We look to improve ourselves all the time and we’ve been doing ok.”

This “new group” face a huge test in Parnell Park on Sunday. Donegal, who won the Division 2 title last year and now find themselves in the top-flight final, stand between Cork and a coveted fifth league title on the bounce.

The Leesiders have won ten of the last 12 league finals, the two defeats coming to Monaghan in 2012 and Mayo in 2007.

Spearheaded by two lethal forwards, Geraldine McLaughlin and Yvonne McMonagle, Donegal have already upset the odds to beat the Rebels earlier this year.

His side may not have been at full throttle having changed up the starting fifteen as their semi-final spot was already secured, but Fitzgerald is wary of the attacking threats, and the opposition in general.

“[They're] super players, obviously they did fair damage to us in Cork. That’s the management’s job, to get that right and we’ve looked at that and trained accordingly. Hopefully we can reduce the threat of those girls but it’s going to be difficult because they’re fabulous footballers.

“With players of that calibre, you can certainly try and minimise the effect they have but they’re very good players, similar to what we have with Eimear and them up the other end. You’re trying to do the best you can but you’re only going to limit them so much.

“Hopefully we’ll give a better account of ourselves than we did the last time but it’s a big challenge for the girls. Marie [Ambrose] and Roisin Phelan and these girls have two All-Irelands under their belts, they’re experienced now at this stage and they’re young. They’ll look forward to the challenge.

“Sunday will be a big test, as it will be for Donegal. It’s their first adventure into the big time for a while, there’s great credit due to them in fairness, after winning Division 2 last year and to come right through and get to a final in Division 1 because it’s very competitive.

“But I think it will be a good game of football, we’re looking forward to it and hoping to give a better performance than in Cork a few weeks ago.”

Yvonne McMonagle celebrates scoring a goal Yvonne McMonagle. Tom Beary / INPHO Tom Beary / INPHO / INPHO

Meanwhile on the championship front, Cork have won the last six campaigns and 11 of the last 12 titles. Fitzgerald’s side set the wheels in motion for their seventh consecutive All-Ireland gong in early June, but there’s a job to be done before that.

Some believe that the side’s focus is set firmly on the summer from year to year and that the league is nothing but a sideshow, but Fitzgerald dismisses any of such claims.

“I put great store in the league. We can only win three competitions and this is the second national one so it’s very important. All of these competitions need to be treated with massive respect.

“People say Cork can be blasé about the league, we’re not a bit blasé. We have three competitions we enter every year and we aim to do the best we can in each of them. This is the first one and we’ve prepared as if this was championship.

“Obviously we’ll be a little bit fitter later on in the year but from our point of view, we can’t do much more than what we had planned in terms of preparation for Sunday. As I say, if it’s good enough, fine, if it’s not, we’ll take our hats off to Donegal.”

In terms of Corkery and Buckley’s undecided returns, it’s all still a waiting game.

“After the league, we’ll sit down and we’ll pick a panel. We’ll definitely have a decision come next week.”

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