THE Cork ladies footballers commence their 2021 campaign in the Lidl Ladies National Football League with two home ties against Tipperary and All-Ireland champions Dublin the next two weekends.
The knowledge that both matches will be televised live on TG4 from the Páirc will undoubtedly be an incentive for Ephie Fitzgerald’s side to put their best foot forward right from the off.
Cork won 11 All-Ireland titles in 12 years between 2005 and 2016, to become very much the queens of Gaelic football in this country, but they have had to endure the agony of watching Dublin wrestle that mantle from their grasp in recent years.
Dublin have now won four All-Ireland’s in a row, with two of those four All-Ireland Finals being won at Cork’s expense, including, of course, last year’s decider, which the girls in blue won by five points at Croke Park. It seems a long time ago now since Cork saw off the Dubs for the third final in a row back in 2016, to win by a solitary point.
Ultimately Cork could not keep back the blue wave forever. It is absolutely no coincidence that the Dublin ladies began their dominance around the same time as their male counterparts. They have been benefitting from the similar financial and organisational advantages that they enjoy over the rest of the country, and with the right people at the top to ensure they drive home these advantages it is proving very difficult to stop either the men or women of Dublin at present.
Dublin will undoubtedly start the year as favourites to lift the Brendan Martin Cup once more, but if anyone is going to stop them from doing so then the team that looks best placed to do so would appear to be the Rebelettes.
Of course, the loss of star Nemo Rangers forward Saoirse Noonan to soccer on a permanent basis is undoubtedly a loss to Fitzgerald and his selectors for the coming year, as the former Cork City star has upped sticks and moved to ply her trade in Dublin with Shelbourne. In saying that, he will still have plenty of firepower to call upon as he plots the Dub’s demise.
The attack will be led again by top scorer Orla Finn and last year’s All-Star Áine Terry O’Sullivan, who announced herself with a brilliant hat-trick again Cavan in last year’s quarter-final, while the likes of Doireann and Ciara O’Sullivan also add to Cork’s impressive attack.
Still, someone has to take up the slack of Noonan’s departure, meaning an attacker like Kinsale’s Sadhbh O’Leary could become a more permanent fixture in Cork’s forward line. The 21-year-old has searing speed in her locker, as well as an eye for goal, which could be extremely useful in the year ahead.
So there are clear areas to be improved upon all over the pitch if Cork are to match Dublin’s powerful side over the full hour of championship combat.
Fitness levels, both physical and mental, are also areas where improvements can be made, as it would appear that Dublin had an edge on them in this regard last December.
It is a long road back to Croke Park, but starting again under the bright TV lights against Tipperary should ensure that it is not a long slog either.