THE Littlewoods National League gets underway this weekend. It’s a tough one for the Cork Division 2 side, as they head to Tipperary.
For these girls, it is a return to the inter-county stage 14 months after they last lined out in their county colours.
Last season, they contested three rounds of the league, before restrictions forced the abandonment of their last game. Subsequently, the decision not to allow a county’s second team to participate in the All-Ireland series left hundreds of players without any championship inter-county competition in 2020.
All that is not forgotten, as we look forward to what we hope will be a meaningful season.
Looking back at last season’s league, Tipperary were in a superb position, having won all of their games. They were joint top of their section, with Antrim, and poised to make it to the concluding stages.
Cork were going into their last game in their group knowing that a win might not be enough to get them a place in the final, but they were looking ahead with huge confidence to the championship, having had a reasonably good league campaign.
Manager Mark McCarthy has remained on board and he has worked hard to ensure his players have kept in touch and stayed motivated.
Since training resumed, he has gathered his panel of 30 players and, with Aisling Moloney named as captain, they are ready to go.
In the Littlewoods Division 2 league, there are four groups: Two groups of three and two groups of four.
The top two in each group go to the quarter-finals, while the bottom four play in relegation play-offs, with the losers playing in a relegation final.
In group one, there are just three teams: Antrim, Down, and Derry. Group two is Cork, Tipperary, Kerry, and Galway, group three is Wexford, Kilkenny, and Laois, and group four Westmeath, Dublin, Kildare, and Meath.
In round two, on May 22, Cork will host Kerry on what will be a historic day for the Kerry side, meeting Cork for the first time at Division 2 level.
Having been scheduled to meet in the championship last year, before the second teams were removed from competing, this is a clash that will be eagerly awaited by both counties.
Saturday, May 29 will see Cork make the long journey to Galway and Cork, once again, have drawn the short straw, with two games away and just one at home.
The management team in Tipperary is new and, in a change of format this season, they have two separate managements for senior and intermediate.
In recent years, the intermediate side had been overseen by the senior management team, but a change of direction was decided for the 2021 season.
The new manager is Cian Treacy, of Thurles Sarsfields, a previous member of the senior management backroom team and former county minor manager. He brings huge experience to the job.
He has a strong backroom team that includes Matthew McGrath, Ailis Maher, Brian Stakelum, Aaron Whelahan, and Caitlin Donnelly.
Whelahan is son of former Offaly hurling great, Brian, while Brian Stakelum was previously involved with the Tipperary hurling set-up with Mike Ryan and Liam Sheedy, during their successful runs from 2016 to 2019.
They have a lot of player changes to last year’s panel, with lots of last season’s minors coming up: Laura Heffernan, Gill Ann Quirke, Ciara Duane, Leah Heffernan, and Eimear Bourke are among the new players in their squad. Gone up to join the senior panel are Claire Stakelum, Mary Bourke, Clodagh McIntyre, and Sarah Delaney, while Caoimhe Perdue is playing international hockey.
A new season and all to play for, so let’s hope it’s long and enjoyable.