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Dublin: 15 °C Thursday 27 June, 2019
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Cork unfazed as Páirc wait continues with Fitzgerald's focus firmly on league final

The 11-time All-Ireland winners were set to make their long-awaited bow there next month – but that’s now unlikely.

Ephie Fitzgerakld talking to his Cork team.
Ephie Fitzgerakld talking to his Cork team.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

WHILE CORK’S MUNSTER SFC semi-final has been moved out of Páirc Uí Chaoimh with the Rod Stewart concert a factor in the venue change, it means that there’s now uncertainty around the ladies side’s provincial round-robin clash with Kerry.

It was scheduled as the curtain raiser for the men’s meeting with with Tipperary or Limerick at the main Leeside stadium on Saturday 1 June, but with that now moved to Páirc Uí Rinn, it’s unclear what will happen with the ladies game just yet.

The double-header is expected to proceed though, meaning the wait goes on for Ephie Fitzgerald’s 11-time All-Ireland champions’ first appearance at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

While it’s firmly to the back of their minds with Sunday’s Division 1 Lidl Ladies National Football League final against Galway the priority, Fitzgerald says he’s happy to play their repeat of last year’s Munster decider wherever.

With it likely to also be staged at Páirc Uí Rinn now, the Leesiders are happy enough there.

“Yeah, we like that. It’s a nice atmosphere and Páirc Uí Chaoimh is huge,” he tells The42 when the men’s venue change to Páirc Uí Rinn is put to him.

“We’ll proceed that so. That’s grand. We don’t give a damn.

“Páirc Ui Chaoimh is huge anyway, even for the lads. If Cork are playing Tipperary [or Limerick] in Páirc Ui Chaoimh, what are you going to have, a couple of thousand people there.

“I think Páirc Ui Rinn lends a far more intimate atmosphere, it’s a lovely stadium. The girls… playing before the men, I’m not sure. But they like playing in front of crowds.”

There’s a league campaign to finish out first though, back in the decider after a year absence as their bid for six-in-a-row fell short last year.

Pleased with his young side’s showing through their campaign despite a shaky start, the Nemo Rangers clubman places emphasis on finding young players in the league — the likes of Clare O’Shea, the Kiely twins, Daire and Eimear, Laura O’Mahony and Sarah Leahy — and using his entire panel.

Back-to-back wins over Dublin in their last round-robin game and semi-final provide great confidence for the Rebels going into Sunday’s showdown with Galway, but the league so far really has been a learning curve.

Libbby Coppinger and Ephie Fitzgerald celebrate after the game Celebrating the semi-final win over Dublin with Libby Coppinger. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“We never put a huge emphasis on winning and I know that might sound strange,” he continues. “It’s just getting the performance and getting the most out of the girls.

“The only thing I’ll ever get cross about really is if I don’t think they’re putting in the effort that’s required in a game. There’s no guarantee that you’ll play well, score, make the tackles; but there’s certainly guarantee you can control your work rate and that’s something we pride ourselves on.

“We’ve worked very, very hard, particularly over the last two months, on our fitness. Hopefully that will bring us into the summer in good stead. At the end of the day this is a National League final, and Dublin will still be the team to beat come championship.

“We’ve had quite a good record against Dublin despite what people think. In my time we’ve played in lots of league semi-finals and came out the right side of them. They beat us last year, we beat them in a league final a few years ago. There’s never anything much between Cork and Dublin at this level.

“It’s a building process for us. I don’t put too much pressure on the girls in terms of winning. They’re very, very young.

“What they have shown us to date is they have the ability to play at this level and they also have the ability to prepare to play at this level which is the important thing really.

“We’re looking forward to Sunday, and looking forward to the summer ahead.”

He added: “Our girls are a very humble bunch and they don’t take anything for granted. Win, lose or draw it’s the same thing.

“They go, they give an honest effort, and while the trophies are nice at the end of the day… if we had been beaten by Dublin the other day, I would have been pleased with our performance. That’s not just saying it because we won.

“It was a big step up for lots of our girls, they were able to cope and compete so that’s very, very pleasing.”

With captain Doireann O’Sullivan unlikely to feature on Sunday due to a back injury and the suspended Áine O’Sullivan also ruled out, Fitzgerald is delighted to have rising star Saoirse Noonan back and ready for selection after recovering from a partial tear to her cruciate.

“In my opinion, she’s gifted,” he says. “She’s a fantastic footballer, and a great girl as well. She’s very humble. She’s won more awards than you can imagine, but nothing phases her really. It’s just she loves playing — and that’s the beauty of it for us.

Saoirse Noonan with manger manager Ephie Fitzgerald after the game Fitzgerald with Saoirse Noonan. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“The levels in training have gone way up because the standards have gone way up, there’s lots of competition for places, nobody’s guaranteed anything — which leads to better performances in training and during matches. All in all, we’re very pleased to date with all that’s gone on.

“Sunday now will be a big test for the younger girls against Galway, the form team of the league really this year. That’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”

The Tribeswomen, under Tim Rabbitte, have won all but one of their games so far in 2019 — and will most certainly be gunning to get over the line after four Division 1 final defeats through the years.

And Fitzgerald is well aware of the difficult task at hand.

“They’ve changed their style this year, they have a lot of girls playing the ball, breaking quickly and that. They have a system going, they’re well organised and they’ve a very fluid half forward line.

“They’re very pacy and their transition is very, very good. I don’t think it will be a normal game in a sense, it’ll be tit for tat. It’s a game there’ll be a lot of patience needed and again, that’s where experience comes in.

“They have a lot of talent in their team and they’ve been playing very, very well,” he concludes, naming the Leonard cousins — Tracey and Roisin — as big threats.

“It’s a different challenge to the Dublin one but it’s one we’re looking forward to — hopefully we’ll give a good account of ourselves.”

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Emma Duffy

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