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Cork boosted by Fitzgerald return and 'ready to go again, hopefully stronger than ever in January'

Mourneabbey All-Ireland winning defender Eimear Meaney has welcomed the managerial U-turn.

Ephie Fitzgerald with his Cork team.
Ephie Fitzgerald with his Cork team.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

WITH THE LADIES football club season wrapped up, the focus now turns to the 2020 inter-county campaign.

After a period of uncertainty in Cork, all is cleared up again with Ephie Fitzgerald completing a U-turn to return to the helm of the 11-time All-Ireland winners ahead of the New Year. 

The Nemo Rangers clubman announced his immediate decision to step down after the Rebels’ All-Ireland semi-final exit at the hands of eventual three-in-a-row champions Dublin in August.

“I think it is time for a new voice,” Fitzgerald said at the time. ”I said I would give it one more year. The result today was nothing to do with my decision to step down. That was made a while back.

“I would hope whoever takes over would take on that challenge and bring the team forward again and hopefully back up those steps in a year or two again.”

Then in late September and early October, there were whispers on Leeside that 2016 All-Ireland winning manager Fitzgerald — who succeeded the great Eamonn Ryan at the helm that year — may return, and Cork LGFA confirmed his ratification some days later.

Last week ahead of the All-Ireland club finals, Mourneabbey and Cork star defender Eimear Meaney’s entire focus was on their showdown against Kilkerrin-Clonberne, but she was happy to discuss Fitzgerald’s welcome return.

“Yeah, I think there was a little bit of confusion for people for a couple of weeks,” Meaney said, “but yeah, he’s back in now.

kathryn-coakley-and-eimear-meaney-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Eimear Meaney celebrating last weekend's win with Kathryn Coakley. Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

“He’s been a really good manager for the last couple of years and it’s nice to be coming back in with a bit of familiarity — there’s not too much change. It’s good, he knows the players individually, can manage them really well and collectively as a team.”

While Fitzgerald steered Cork to their 11th All-Ireland title in 12 years — also six-in-a-row — in his first season in charge, the county have not reached the Holy Grail since. 

In 2017, Mayo ended their year at the semi-final stage. In 2018, Mick Bohan’s Dublin were six-point winners in the final, while the Sky Blues again ended Cork’s championship ambitions this summer.

Through Fitzgerald’s tenure, he has delivered three Lidl Ladies National League Division 1 crowns (2016, 2017, and 2019 — Dublin won in 2018) and three Munster titles (2016, 2018 and 2019).

After a period of transition at the start of his reign — they lost several more seasoned stars to retirement — Fitzgerald’s young, but experienced, Cork team surely feel they are getting closer and closer to Dublin once again. 

niamh-mcevoy-with-eimear-meaney Meaney facing Niamh McEvoy in the 2018 All-Ireland final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

There’s plenty of continuity in the set-up heading into 2020, while they’ll be boosted by the recently-crowned All-Star duo Melissa Duggan and Orla Finn (Duggan leads the Munster inter-pro team tomorrow).

“We have a lot of the same players, a couple of minors coming up this year,” Meaney — who was solid at the back as Mourneabbey made it back-to-back All-Ireland senior club crowns after a one-point win last weekend — added.

“It’s really nice because I’m familiar with him [Fitzgerald], I know him well and hopefully we’re just ready to go again and stronger than ever in January.”

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Emma Duffy

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