EXPERIENCED defender Shauna Kelly is hoping Cork can build on an encouraging campaign ahead of this year’s All-Ireland championship.
Kelly made her mark underage at inter-county before progressing to the Cork senior set-up in 2012. U16 and minor stints prepared the Ballydesmond native for the top level.
Eight years on and the Araglen Desmonds Buí defender remains important to the Cork senior football team. That’s testament to the defender’s talent and work ethic.
“The late Éamonn Ryan was my manager until Ephie Fitzgerald took over in 2016, so I’ve been fortunate to play as long as I have for Cork,” Kelly told the Echo.
“I was born near the Kerry border, but play my club football in Cork, with Araglen Desmonds Buí, an amalgamation of Boherbue, Ballydesmond, and Kiskeam.
I still support the Kerry men’s football team, which is a controversial topic."
A Covid-19-affected 2020 championship saw Cork overcome Kerry, Cavan, and Galway, before losing 1-10 to 1-5 to Dublin in the All-Ireland decider.
Matches were played in empty stadiums, but Kelly used all her experience to help guide Fitzgerald’s side to another All-Ireland final, before falling to the four-in-a-row-chasing champions.
“We (Cork) put in some great performances throughout the year, but when you don’t achieve your main aim of winning the All-Ireland, that can, sometimes, overshadow all the good work you’ve put in,” the secondary school PE teacher said.
“It shouldn’t be forgotten that we managed to play at a consistently high level despite all the restrictions. We should be proud of that. The Cork squad is hugely talented and will be again this year. Competition for places is intense and motivates you to go to every training session and give your absolute best.
“There is a good atmosphere in the squad and we push each other to the limit at every session. There is no room for complacency when you are playing for Cork. There are players on the panel who will come in and take your place if you are not at your best and giving your all,” Kelly said.
“Last year, Paddy O’Shea came in as head coach and brought something new to the Cork training sessions. There was always great intensity and his drills kept us sharp. Ephie is a great manager, too, and an even better motivator, who makes time for everyone.”
Kelly has nailed down a starting berth in Cork’s defence. She is hoping to carry that form into 2021, so Cork can go a step further than in their previous campaign.
“I started off playing wing-back and that’s the position I like playing the most,” Kelly said. “I wore the number-four jersey a lot of times for Cork last year but ended up playing in the half-back line in most games, which I enjoyed. It is a case of taking your opportunity when you get it.
There has been no training over the winter months, but we have been sticking to Michelle Dullea’s strength-and-conditioning programmes at home.
"Everyone will be fit and ready to go when we return to full training.
“Sometimes, it is hard to keep the training going, especially when you are on your own a lot. You would prefer to meet up with the girls and all train on the same pitch together, but that’s just not possible at the moment. The Zoom calls are fun, but it is hard to be an inter-county footballer during a pandemic,” Kelly said.
“Everyone is in the same boat, though, so you just get on with it. As well as that, there are a lot of young players on the Cork senior panel right now and they motivate you to keep going. On the plus side, it is the first time I’ve ever been disappointed at missing a full pre-season.”
Kelly’s ambitions remain undiminished, despite not knowing when the 2021 LGFA senior championship will begin.
“Cork seem to be there or thereabouts in the championship each year, so getting over the line and winning another All-Ireland would be a personal goal of mine,” Kelly said.
“I want to keep improving as a player and help the Cork team push on... but I would love to win another All-Ireland medal. That’s my motivation for this year.”