CORK defenders Róisín Phelan and Ashling Hutchings are ready to face Galway in this weekend’s TG4 All-Ireland LGFA senior football semi-final.
Phelan and Hutchings have been two of Ephie Fitzgerald’s most consistent players in this year’s league and championship.
The Cork manager will need both defenders at their best, along with the rest of his panel, if the Rebels are to overcome last year’s runners-up in Sunday’s semi-final.
Now playing her club football with St Brigid’s in Dublin, Phelan’s return to the Cork set-up following a year’s absence has been a timely boost. Phelan is enjoying her football and glad to be back.
“Training has been going really well and obviously, we are looking forward to playing Galway.
“This is the reason we play. It is coming down to the business end of the season. This is exactly where we want to be,” Phelan said.
“I took a year out last year due to work commitments. That really took its toll as you forget how much a big part playing inter-county football is in you.
“I was encouraged to go back by my family and friends. I’m glad I did as I’m a much happier person when I’m playing football at a high level. It’s been great to get back to the Cork set-up.”
Phelan hasn’t missed a beat despite being absent from the Cork senior panel for over a year.
The St Brigid’s defender produced two confident displays in the full-back position as Cork saw off Kerry and Cavan to reach the last four of this year’s championship.
Lack of challenge matches has been a drawback and the Cork full-back has also had to contend with playing inter-county football much later in the year.
“Conditions can change at this time of year,” the Cork defender commented.
“Some pitches can be a little bit heavier than others. The restrictions kicked in just before our inter-county season so we’ve not been able to get in as many challenge matches as we would like.
“Hopefully, we have kicked off all the cobwebs at this stage, but it does take time for teams to gel, particularly without having competitive matches over a long period of time. While the A v B games are great and there is great competition within them, it is good to play against other teams to see what you are made of.”
Fermoy’s Ashling Hutchings is another in-form Cork player whose experience will be vital against Galway next Sunday.
“Getting on the 30, let alone the starting 15, is everyone’s aim right now,” the Cork half-back said.
“We have about 38 players on the Cork senior panel so getting any position is really difficult because of the competition for places. That makes training sessions harder as everyone is fighting for their spot.
“Laura O’Mahony got injured at the start of the season but we have Melissa (Duggan), Shauna (Kelly), Aisling (Kelleher) and now Erika (O’Shea) as well, all vying for positions on the half-back line.
“That’s good because you know you can never take your foot off the pedal and you have all those other younger girls coming through as well.”
Hutchings’ experience will be important in the dressing room before Sunday’s game. The Fermoy stalwart acknowledges the tough challenge Cork are facing, but is used to dealing with match-day nerves.
“I think I get more nervous in the lead up to matches,” Hutchings admitted.
“On the day, once we get out and do the warm-up, there is nothing more you can do. So, once the ball is thrown in, you just go all out. I think the nerves disappear once the match begins. Leading up to a big game, you might be given a different job to do or mark a certain person.
“The year that is in it, everything is a bit strange and the fact we are playing football in December is a bit odd.
“I think we are all just happy to be out there when you consider a lot of people are confined to their homes and have their movements limited.
“We still get to play football so we will be a bit nervous but, on the day, they won’t be too bad and we will go out and perform like we can.”