Ladies football: Competition for places is more intense than ever in Cork squad

Ladies football: Competition for places is more intense than ever in Cork squad
Martina O'Brien of Cork makes a save despite the shot of Blaithin Mackin of Armagh last season. Picture: Ben McShane/Sportsfile

CORK goalkeeper Martina O’Brien was delighted with the progress of the senior inter-county squad until Covid-19 halted the Rebel’s progress.

“Like everyone else, I’m just going from day to day and week to week,” the Cork senior goalkeeper told The Echo.

“I am currently back home in Ballinascarthy and being well looked after so it’s grand, This is such a surreal situation though and it is hard to believe that five weeks have passed at this stage of the lockdown.

“Covid-19 has had a big impact on the things that I have been working on during that timeframe. I would have been busy around this time of the year but now, nothing. Yet, my family are healthy, my friends are healthy, and I am healthy, so I haven’t much to be complaining about.”

O’Brien’s inter-county appearances proved sporadic in 2020 despite keeping goal in all three of Cork’s opening LIDL National League Division 1 games. Competition for places allied with Ephie Fitzgerald looking at untried players meant Cork’s squad saw plenty of game time prior to the LGFA halting their activities.

Unluckily for the Clonakilty goalkeeper and her inter-county team-mates, Cork’s positive start and ascent to the top of the Division 1 standings was quickly stymied by Covid-19.

“You can never read too much into your form at the beginning of the year,” O’Brien cautioned.

“Granted, if we were to sit down and evaluate ourselves prior to Covid-19 then Cork would have to have been happy enough with how things were going. I know we lost up in Donegal but prior to that, we had done enough to suggest we could make a league final.

“I felt the Donegal loss was going to act as a catalyst for the Cork team to redouble their efforts. It was a timely reminder and brought us down to earth after our unbeaten start. It was also a kick up the ass that I think we needed. Then, everything stopped, and we have not had a chance to put things right since.

“No one was looking beyond the league but the prospect of playing in another Munster Championship had every player keyed up to do well.”

Competition for places in the Cork LGFA senior inter-county setup is nothing new. Yet, this year’s squad of more than 35 players included an interesting blend of up and comers from the U21 and minor grades along with established seniors desperate to get another shot at an All-Ireland.

Highly-competitive training games in which no player was holding back made for intriguing viewing. Although still early in the season, Martina O’Brien agrees that Cork were undoubtedly in a good place and eager to kick on.

“Having close to 37 players competing for a place in the starting 15 every week can only be a positive for Cork football,” the Ballinascarthy native commented.

“Training was going really well this year too. Everyone was buying into what Ephie and the management team were asking of us. Whether that was on the pitch or off the pitch. Nutrition wise, everyone was looking after themselves better than ever before. We were all looking forward to what the rest of the year was going to bring.

“Nobody was guaranteed their position on this year’s Cork team. That might sound like a cliché, but it is true. There were girls coming up from minor and banging in goals left and right in training. They were showing Ephie what they could do and putting it up to the more established players right from day one.

“That meant everyone had to do their level best in training but, in my opinion, that represented a real positive for Cork football.”

Martina O’Brien and the Cork senior footballers do not know when they will get the chance to build on a productive start to 2020. For now, remaining healthy and safe within the confines of their homes is more important than finishing off a league campaign.

Like her fellow team-mates, the experienced west Cork goalkeeper is dreaming of a return to inter-county competition sooner rather than later. What is certain is that O’Brien and the Cork players will be primed for another crack at an All-Ireland whenever that prospect materialises.

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