MORE than seven months on from the successful defence of their All-Ireland ladies club football title, Mourneabbey are bracing themselves for an imminent return to competitive action.
In light of the GAA’s decision to re-open their pitches across the country last Wednesday, the all-conquering black-and-amber outfit have finally resumed collective field training.
While it may be a difficult transition for some, the Cork club’s influential attacker Doireann O’Sullivan is enjoying a smooth adjustment from the remote workouts that had sustained her in recent weeks.
“We had one session before Covid, and the lockdown happened,” said O’Sullivan.
“We hadn’t seen each other in ages, we hadn’t had a group session in ages. It doesn’t take too long to get back into it. The body is fully charged now again and the mind was rested as well.
“You’d miss football, obviously, but you’d miss the people as well. We were all really looking forward to getting back into it. Unfortunately we had a couple of retirements this year, but we’ve about 90% of our panel back again.”
Mourneabbey have ruled the roost at local level in recent years, winning the last six Cork SFC titles. It hasn’t always been plain sailing for Shane Ronayne’s charges, however, with the likes of St Val’s and West Cork pushing them to the limit on a number of occasions.
From O’Sullivan’s perspective, their ‘ferocious battles’ leave them primed for the challenges that await in the Munster and All-Ireland club championships.
“You need that competition within your county if you’re to go anywhere at Munster or All-Ireland level,” she said. “To be honest, we’ve been extremely lucky to come out of a few of them. It does prepare you. You’re marking and playing against some of the best players in the country.
“I know there are some clubs, like Ballymacarbry down in Waterford, who’ve won 20+ county championships in a row. Their first real test is in Munster, which is tough for them. We are extremely lucky that we’ve an extremely competitive county championship.”
Following the lead of the GAA, the LGFA and the Camogie Association have decided to put their inter-county competitions on hold until October. O’Sullivan feels this is the right move and believes a consistent run of club games will be of benefit upon her return to the Cork panel.
“If it was one of the other, club has to come first,” she said.
“From talking to anyone who plays both, everyone was eager to play the club championship. It sets us up nicely then for intercounty. If we were going straight into an intercounty season, I don’t think players would be fully prepared.
“There’s a lot of science behind the return to play, going into it too quickly and upping our training load too quickly.
“I do think club is a good introduction into county and will prepare us nicely for a higher standard with intercounty games.”
Due to the disruptions caused by the outbreak of the pandemic, a new format for the All-Ireland Senior Ladies Football Championship has been placed on the backburner. Ephie Fitzgerald’s Cork were initially set to feature in a group of six teams — guaranteeing five games in advance of the knockout phase.
Instead, it will revert to the four groups of three that was used in the past two seasons. Only on this occasion, the absence of All-Ireland quarter-finals means it is just the winner of each section that will progress into the latter stages.
This will leave very little margin for error, and having only topped their group on score difference in 2019, Cork skipper O’Sullivan won’t be taking anything for granted.
“Seven, eight years ago when I started, there were maybe only two or three All-Ireland contenders,” she said. “You had the likes of Dublin beating teams by maybe 10 or 15 points and that’s not happening anymore. The gap between teams has closed dramatically.
“Every county now is doing huge work at underage and it makes for way more exciting games at senior level then.
“We were in a group with Cavan and Armagh [last year] and we probably would have been favourites. We were lucky enough to get out of that group. It does make ladies football a lot more exciting, that teams aren’t running away with games anymore. This year I don’t think will be any different.”