CORK ladies football full-back and St Brigid’s stalwart Róisín Phelan will face off against some familiar faces in this year’s TG4 LGFA All-Ireland SFC final.
Now living in Dublin and playing her club football with St Brigid’s, Róisín Phelan will be tasked with thwarting club-mate Noelle Healy along with the other members of Dublin’s highly regarded attacking division.
Defeating Galway in Croke Park was a surreal but useful experience ahead of Cork’s Sunday showdown with the four-in-a-row chasing Dubs.
“It is always good to play at Croke Park as it is such a fantastic pitch and somewhere everyone wants to play,” the Cork inter-county star told the Echo.
“Getting a dry run there was good before the final. It is a bit strange playing in front of an empty Croke Park having previously played in All-Ireland finals with packed attendances. Hearing the echoes around the place and Martina’s (O’Brien) voice, which doesn’t need much help in being heard, is something else," she laughs.
Galway posed Cork’s toughest test to date but Phelan and her fellow defenders ability to turn over possession thanks to their superb tackling turned the game in the eventual winners’ favour.
“To be fair, our coaches have been really good in making sure we improve the timing of our tackles and tackle correctly,” the Cork defender said. “That improvement is obviously starting to show and we are really happy with that.”
Phelan plays her club football with St Brigid’s in Dublin and is in the unique situation of potentially facing two or three club-mates in this weekend’s All-Ireland decider.
“It is a bit of an odd situation alright but I’d say there will be a fair few hits going in from both sides!” Phelan admitted.
“We have been giving each other a friendly ribbing all year about playing on different inter-county teams. There won’t be much said between now and the final but plenty said out on the field on the day itself.”
After the most surreal year, having an opportunity to fight for the Brendan Martin Cup is something special for Róisín Phelan and her Cork teammates.
“You can’t really put that into words as it is what we have worked for all year,” the Cork full-back added.
“It is what all those dirty runs during the winter time is for. All the nutrition, all the gym work you undergo throughout the year, getting to an All-Ireland final is exactly the reason why we do it. So, it is really exciting to be back there again.
“No one was certain if we were even going to get to play in a senior championship this year. There was a lot of hard work put in earlier in the year and we weren’t sure if the fruits of that labour would be worth it in the end. So, it is a relief that we have finally gotten there and reached the final.
“The intensity of our training has been important. The younger players on the panel have really helped in that they are driving everything on and threatening to take places. It is very intense at training but that is exactly how you want it heading into a match with Dublin.”
Ephie Fitzgerald’s influence on Róisín Phelan’s career is evident when you consider the latter was able to take a year out before returning to the inter-county fold.
Assuming the role of full-back in the Cork starting 15 underlines Fitzgerald’s faith in one of the county’s most consistent performers.
“Continuity is key and Ephie has been there a number of years and is doing a really good job,” Phelan said.
“This is Ephie’s third final in five seasons so that statistic speaks for itself. I’m glad he is still on board and he’s been working really hard with us over the past number of years.
“It is always great to get to an All-Ireland final and an opportunity to share that experience with the people from home that you love. They put in nearly as many sacrifices as we do so it is good to be able to share that with them. This year will be a little bit different but I’m sure they won’t mind if we end up bringing the Brendan Martin Cup home.”
A year away from the inter-county scene has not diminished Róisín Phelan’s skillset. The Dublin-based player’s ability to thwart the reigning All-Ireland champions' attack will be pivotal to next weekend’s outcome but few players are better suited to the challenge.