IT’S make or break for the Cork ladies footballers as they contest the TG4 All-Ireland senior semi-final on Sunday.
The Rebels take on Galway at Parnell Park at 1.30pm as they bid to be the only senior Cork side to reach an All-Ireland final this season.
With the camogie team falling at the semi-final stage last weekend it means that only the ladies footballers can bring glory at this level to Cork this year.
The minor and U20 men’s sides are still in their respective competitions and will be in action in the coming weeks.
The ladies football game was originally scheduled to take place at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick but was moved during the week when their county board withdrew the pitch as their hurlers wanted to train ahead of the All-Ireland final.
It now means that Cork and Galway now have to travel to Dublin, something that Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald is not happy about, citing the dangers of this to the players on health grounds.
But on Sunday they will have to put all that to the back of their minds as they bid to bring All-Ireland glory to Leeside, something they haven’t done since 2016.
Since then they have lost at the semi-final stage twice and the final once and there is a determination in the squad to make up for that this year.
Earlier in the year Cork were flying in the league and were the form team, along with their opponents on Sunday, before Covid-19 struck and with it the lockdown.
At that stage, it would have been hard to bet against the Rebels and after a long break from inter-county action, the concern was how they would react on the resumption.
Their first outing against Kerry was a close and tough encounter, with Saoirse Noonan’s early goal key in their three-point win. Against Cavan they never looked in any real trouble and could easily have won by more.
Now it’s another step up against a Galway side that will be full of confidence, especially after their win over Monaghan in their last group game. In that encounter, they were down to 14 before half-time when Rabienne Cooney received a straight red card, but they withstood the challenge of their opponents to advance to the semi-final. They have talented players all over the pitch, and the likes of Tracey Leonard, Olivia Divilly and Nicola Ward will take some watching.
In defence, Charlotte Cooney will anchor from centre-back and they certainly won’t fear facing Cork.
They will have a bit of revenge on their minds as they would love to have another crack off Dublin having lost to them in last year’s final. That day they were far from their best, with nerves possibly getting the better of some of them, and it has been a driving force this year for the Galway panel.
But they are up against a very strong Cork side, with possibly the best panel they have had in recent years.
Added in the fact that their injuries have cleared up, with Libby Coppinger and Niamh Cotter, now fully fit and pushing for starting places.
There is competition for a starting spot in every position and the players know if they don’t put it in at the training sessions then someone is only waiting to take their place.
They can go into the game full of confidence but will be well aware of the challenge in front of them.
Defensively, Cork have only conceded two goals so far and at the other end have scored eight. The experience of Roisin Phelan, Eimear Meaney and Melissa Duggan will stand to Cork, with teenager Erika O’Shea also impressing.
In midfield, you have Maire O’Callaghan and Hannah Looney and pressing them all the way for starting slots are Cotter and Abbie O’Mahony.
Up front, the full-forward line of Saoirse Noonan, Doireann O’Sullivan and Áine T O’Sullivan have formed a great relationship and in the two games so far have hit 6-13 between them.
They will take some stopping but outside them you still have the likes of Orla Finn, Ciara O’Sullivan, Libby Coppinger, Orlagh Farmer – to name a few – to call on as well.
Such is the strength that the likes of Eimear and Daire Kiely and Brid O’Sullivan have been finding it hard to get into the starting line-up, players that would be automatic starters in most other counties.
It’s not going to be easy but Cork should have too much for Galway and advance to face Dublin at Croke Park on December 20.