ASHLING HUTCHINGS was enjoying one of her most productive seasons in a Cork LGFA senior jersey until the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.
The Fermoy footballer had consistently produced the goods in an inter-changeable half-back line that also featured O’Donovan Rossa’s Laura O’Mahony and Dohenys’ Melissa Duggan during the early rounds of the Lidl National League.
Hutchings’ ability to knit defence with attack played a key role in Ephie Fitzgerald’s side’s ascent to the top of the Division 1 standings before all LGFA activity was suspended following the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.
“I don’t know if I have been one of the most consistent players but I’m happy enough with my Cork performances so far this year,” Hutchings told The Echo.
“I have been wrecked tired at the end of some of the games, so maybe I still need to work on my fitness levels!
“Overall, I am happy with how things have been going especially as the team changed so often during the opening rounds of the league.
“It is a case of getting used to playing with different players as quickly as you can and helping them slot into whatever position they are most comfortable in.
“To be fair, I think we are happy with our level of performance but there is still a huge amount of work to do ahead of the Munster and All-Ireland Championships.”
A change to the Cork LGFA senior management backroom team has seen St Vincent’s Paddy O’Shea take over the coaching role under Ephie Fitzgerald for the 2020 campaign.
“The Cork senior management team has been excellent and put in a huge amount of time and effort over the last number of years,” the Fermoy club player noted.
“It is nice to have a bit of a change. Paddy O’Shea has been the goalkeeping coach for a couple of years and knows all the players.
“That is a good thing, but he is giving us a different perspective since moving into the main coaching role.
“Ephie knows everyone inside out but there is a bit of freshness to the setup and the players are enjoying the training sessions despite all the running!”
Cork’s focus during the early months of the year was on getting consistent performances from the entire team.
Unsurprisingly, there were lapses in concentration and periods of league games when Cork didn’t manage a score.
That’s understandable considering how many squad players have been utilised in such a large squad.
Aishling Hutchings expects Cork’s training and preparations to increase significantly whenever the senior squad next gets together and the LGFA is given the green light to return to action.
“Performances rather than results were what we were looking for at the start of the National League campaign,” Hutchings admitted.
“Management wasn’t saying we must go out and win every game or we must win the league.
“They were more focused on us putting in a good performance and to get our game plan working.
“Obviously, the aim is to win the National League if we can at all, but our long-term goal is to still be in the All-Ireland championship by the end of the summer.
“We need to put foundations in place as we have a massive panel this year.
“Everyone needs game time, but such is the strength of the (entire) panel that you are not sure who will be starting from one game to the next.
“Management needs to see as many of the players in the league as possible so competition for places has been fierce.
“This year’s panel is so strong that Ephie can inter-change people left, right and centre but it doesn’t have an impact on the team.
“That was our aim for this year’s league. Naturally, we are delighted with the start in winning all our matches apart from the last game away to Donegal.
“Everyone was using the early rounds of the league to build really.
“Some of the (early) games, we might have been guilty of going full on for about 40 minutes but struggling (in other parts of that game).
“That’s something we obviously know we need to work on for the rest of the league and then heading into the Munster Championship.”
Away from the playing pitches, the one word that keeps cropping up when interviewing members of the Cork LGFA senior squad is intensity.
That’s hardly surprising considering the depth of talent on this year’s panel and is a trait Ashling Hutchings believes will spur Cork on to greater things before the end of the year.
“Intense is a good word to describe the early months of our preparations, definitely,” Hutchings said.
“We want to bring a lot more physicality to our game in 2020. Last year, I thought we were pushed off the ball a little bit too easily.
“Physicality is something the Cork panel wants to improve on along with an increased intensity. That means going hard in every single training session.
“The people beside us are our best friends but there is only one ball and you want that ball so you have to go as hard as you can for it.
“Everybody is putting in a huge effort both in the gym and out on the pitch. People are performing in matches and training sessions.
“That’s a good thing for Cork football in the long term though because it is pushing everyone on.
“No one wants to be on the sideline so competition for places is what will drive us on this year more than anything else.”