All-Ireland final preview: Rebels hoping to roar against Dublin

All-Ireland final preview: Rebels hoping to roar against Dublin

Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald, seen here with Melissa Duggan, is looking forward to the All-Ireland ladies football final. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

IT takes a special kind of person to manage an inter-county team at any level with the amount of work involved.

But it takes an extra special person to step into the shoes of the most successful one that Cork has had.

But that’s the position Ephie Fitzgerald found himself in when he agreed to take over the Cork senior ladies team when Eamon Ryan announced he was stepping down, with 10 All-Ireland titles to his name.

In his first year in charge, 2016, Ephie kept the winning run going and ensured that the Brendan Martin Cup returned to Leeside for another year.

However since then Dublin have been crowned champions and on Sunday they are going for four in-a-row with the Rebels bidding to put a halt to their winning streak.

Like all managers Ephie has a different way to Ryan and also had the added dilemma of seeing most of the panel he inherited retire over the next year or two.

There are very few left at this stage from the Ryan era and Ephie had to go about building a new panel, a job he has done superbly.

They have either reached the All-Ireland final or semi-final every year and also have enjoyed success in the national league over the last few seasons.

Unfortunately this season the league was cut short but Cork were well on course to retain their title and by the time it was halted in March it was just a case of when rather than if they would be crowned champions.

But the pandemic put a stop to that and like everyone else they were left wondering if the All-Ireland championship would go ahead at all.

Eventually word came that it would, with four groups and only the top side to qualify from each one to go straight to the semi-finals.

Dublin and Cork have been the dominant sides in ladies football and since 2005 no other side bar these two has lifted the cup. Cork were the side to beat for many years, with Dublin interrupting their winning streak in 2010 after the Rebels had won five-in-a-row.

Normal service was resumed from 2011 as Cork went one better and made it six-in-a-row.

But all this time Dublin were building and Sunday will see the title holders in their seventh final in-a-row and going for their fourth title in-a-row, with Cork beating them in the other years, with throw-in at 3.30pm at Croke Park.

There are talented players on both sides and to find weak links is virtually impossible in either side. 

Cork have probably the strongest panel they have had in some time and at this stage have virtually two players for every position, with little or no weakening of the team no matter who plays.

They have a great blend of experience in the likes of Roisin Phelan, Eimear Meaney, Aisling Hutchings, Máire O’Callaghan, Ciara and Doireann O’Sullivan, coupled with the youthful enthusiasm of the likes Erika O’Shea and Eimear and Daire Kiely.

The same can be said of Dublin and as champions will be slight favourites on Sunday. Over the last few years they have upped the standards and all have been striving to catch them.

Of all the other counties Cork are best positioned to do so and the side most likely to seriously challenge Dublin.

They will be looking to the likes of Niamh Collins, Siobhan McGrath, Sinead Goldrick, Lauren Magee, Carla Rowe, Noelle Healy and their inspirational captain, Sinead Aherne in the final.

Aherne will be a worry as she is recovering from an injury picked up in the semi-final and they will be hoping she is ok to last the hour.

But even when she went off 25 minutes into the semi-final it made little difference as Siobhan Killeen slotted into her place.

They were also boosted by the return of Nicole Owens from long-term injury and they will be confident in their own ability. But so will Cork and on form to date have every reason to be.

Speaking recently and regardless of the result on Sunday, Ephie said: “We have a good group and I am very proud of them. They are the closest I have had to a club team as an inter-county side. They’re enjoying their football and long may that continue.”

And all involved with the Rebel county will hope they get to enjoy Sunday and with a little luck can begin the Christmas celebrations a few days early.

It won’t be easy, but if any side can upset Dublin then it is Cork and hopefully that Rebel spirit will see the cup heading south on Sunday evening.

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