Devastation of defeat will act as motivation for Cork’s new crop of ladies footballers

Devastation of defeat will act as motivation for Cork’s new crop of ladies footballers
Cork's Doireann O'Sullivan was gutted after. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

THIS day was always going to come, but for the last 2,169 Cork were the masters of their craft.

Having suffered just their second ever All-Ireland series defeat on Saturday since 2010, you cannot but reflect on the incredible run they have had. And, that's not even taking into account the five in-a-row run they had between 2005-2009.

That's no consolation to the players who lay devastated on the pitch at Kingspan Breffni as daylight came down on what was without question the greatest sporting era ever for a Cork team.

Just two members were involved when the Rebels won their first senior All-Ireland title in 2005 - Bríd Stack, and 15-year servant, selector Frankie Honohan. To think what they went on to achieve, and how they consistently upped their game, bringing those around them is nothing short of amazing.

Together they have won 11 All-Ireland titles in 12 years, and to think that it's taken 23 years for Mayo legend Cora Staunton to win just four. That return by Cork is testament to their work ethic and the winning culture and modesty they created for generations to come.

To have got to an All-Ireland semi-final without the likes of multiple All-Star-winning players Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley, Vera Foley and Deirdre O'Reilly shows just how good this new-look Cork squad are.

Having covered Cork ladies football for 17 seasons, I have never witnessed the devastation on players' faces as I did on Saturday. And, there's no question, that that hurt will drive on this crop next season.

To look at their age profile is hugely encouraging, and should they regroup and go again, there's no reason why they can't redeem themselves, just as their elders did in 2011 following on from their All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Tyrone.

Take Emma Spillane and Melissa Duggan for example, just 18 and 20 years of age respectively. Veteran Doireann O'Sullivan is just 22, Orlagh Farmer 24, Eimear Scally, Niamh Cotter and Eimear Meaney just 20, Shauna Kelly and Roisin Phelan 22, Marie Ambrose 21, and Brid O'Sullivan 23.

Niamh Cotter. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer
Niamh Cotter. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

Then you look at the three-time All-Ireland-winning minor team who are looking up to these players - the likes of Laura Cleary, Saoirse Noonan, Sadbh O'Leary, Ciara Hughes and Ciara McCarthy coming through, so there are mountains of positives to take from this.

Again, that's no consolation to Cork, who did everything to try reach their 12th All-Ireland final in 13 years.

Cork players dejected following the defeat. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Cork players dejected following the defeat. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Injuries have gone against them to some degree this season, as have retirements, but upon reflection, there was no doubting that Mayo were the deserving winners.

They took their goal chances, and it was an encounter that had remnants of Cork's 2010 defeat to Tyrone, with injuries and goal misses costing them dearly.

But, look what happened in the aftermath. Had Cork not suffered that defeat, they wouldn't have gone on to win another six senior All-Ireland titles. It made them as a group of players, and to think that despite all they have won since their very first Munster SFC title in 2004, it has never gone to their heads.

They knew this day was coming and they counted their blessings with every game, but a huge bedrock of talent is now ready to bubble to the surface, and sometimes it's heartache that'll drive it on.

And, heartache aside, losing aside, Cork's class came to the fore at the final whistle. To have that intact on the darkest day in their careers, and to admirably congratulate their opponents and wish them luck was noticeable to all. In fact, it was even noted by the opposing management.

"It's just class, pure class. But that's Cork to a T, and you'd expect nothing less," one Mayo selector stated.

To hear those words as a Cork person is humbling. Because, as was always alluded to during the days when the likes of Juliet Murphy, Angela Walsh, Rena Buckley, Amy O'Shea, Mary O'Connor, Briege Corkery, and Ciara O'Sullivan lifted the Brendan Martin Cup over their heads, 'they're not just good players, they're good people'.

And, that's all that matters at the end of the day.

* Mayo will now take on Dublin in the 2017 All-Ireland senior football final on Sunday, September 24, with Dublin looking to win their first All-Ireland title since 2010. This will be their fourth successive return to Croke Park having lost to Cork on the last three occasions. For Mayo, it's their first return since 2007, and they will be aiming to win their first title since 2003.

In the intermediate showdown, Tyrone will take on Shane Ronayne and Elaine Harte's Tipperary side. The premiere county are looking to win their first All-Ireland since 2008, and Tyrone since the 1999 junior All-Ireland win against New York.

In the junior decider, Fermanagh will take on Derry in an-all Ulster clash.

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