Return of All-Star defender strengthens Cork ahead of league opener in the Páirc

Return of All-Star defender strengthens Cork ahead of league opener in the Páirc
Cork’s Roisin Phelan with Yvonne McMonagle of Donegal. Picture: INPHO/Tom Beary

THE 2020 Lidl Ladies Football National Leagues get underway this weekend, with a full round of fixtures across all four divisions.

The reigning Division 1 champions Cork, will create history today when they open the defence of their crown against visitors Westmeath at 4pm, in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

The Leesiders, who are aiming for a 13th Lidl NFL Division 1 title this year, will play a first-ever competitive fixture at the venue and it will form as part of a double-header with the Cork and Offaly men’s teams who throw-in at 6pm.

Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald has almost all of the 2019 panel at his disposal and has the added boost of the return of All-Star defender, Róisín Phelan. Phelan took a year out in 2019 when her work as a dentist required her to relocate to the capital where she now plays her club football with Dublin outfit St Brigid’s.

Prior to that move, the 25-year-old established herself as one of the best defenders in the country, winning five All-Ireland medals and five Division 1 league honours since first coming into the Cork set-up in the summer of 2012.

Westmeath suffered senior relegation last season, thus will operate in the intermediate rankings in 2020. They will be aiming to retain Division 1 league status this season and are always a dogged outfit and we can expect a defensive set-up from Lake County.

On Sunday, there are three top-flight clashes scheduled. All-Ireland champions Dublin welcome intermediate champions Tipperary to the capital. This fixture will launch the Ladies Gaelic Football Association’s Facebook LIVE coverage of the 2020 Lidl National Football Leagues.

The LGFA in conjunction with Lidl, announced earlier this week that a game from each of the seven regulation rounds of fixtures will be broadcast LIVE on Facebook.

Coverage gets underway next Sunday, January 26, when the Sky Blues pit their wits against the visiting Premier County, who have regained Senior Championship status for 2020.

The LIVE broadcast will also feature a special video report from the previous evening, from the Cork and Westmeath game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Earlier this week, Dublin manager Mick Bohan revealed the squad has been boosted by the return of five players ahead of the 2020 season.

The three-in-a-row All-Ireland champions have welcomed two-time All-Star Leah Caffrey, defensive duo Deirdre Murphy and Laura McGinley, and forwards Sarah McCaffrey and Rebecca McDonnell back into the fold.

Bohan also noted that the Sky Blues will have some absentees. Midfielder Olwen Carey and ace forward Noelle Healy are both taking time out to study, while Lyndsey Davey and Sinead Aherne are taking an extended break.

All-Ireland winning captain Aherne, 2017 Footballer of the Year Healy and long-serving Davey are all expected to return for the latter rounds of the league, along with duo Niamh McAvoy and Sinead McGoldrick who are currently playing Australian Football.

Bohan claims the depth and strength of the Dublin squad should mean they will cope reasonably well without some of their star players. They should get a result from their opening fixture. Tipperary are newly promoted as reigning intermediate champions but are without the services of Aisling McCarthy and Orla O’Dwyer, who are also enjoying a stint Down Under. Reports suggest they have a very young squad with a number of the squad retiring after their 2019 All-Ireland win and could struggle in Division 1 this year.

The 2019 Lidl NFL Division 1 and TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship runners-up Galway entertain newly-promoted Waterford in Division 1 also on Sunday, with 2019 All-Ireland semi-finalists Mayo at home to Ulster champions Donegal.

An interesting clash lies in Mayo and Donegal. Mayo will be without four of their starting forwards for the league campaign, with Sarah Rowe, Captain Niamh Kelly and her sister Grace, and Aileen Gilroy all playing Aussie Rules.

Mayo knocked Donegal out of last year’s championship so an interesting affair ensues. Donegal could well get one over this time around however, with Mayo missing so many key players.

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