IT WAS no great surprise that the Cork ladies footballers opened their Lidl NFL campaign with a win over Tipperary on Friday night at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Anyone looking at the final scoreline of 3-15 to 2-6 would think that this was a ‘walk in the Páirc’ for Cork.
But at half-time the Rebels were only two points up and were turning to play against the strong wind.
In that half they had to rely on some sublime points from Orla Finn and a goal from Player of the Game Sadhbh O’Leary to keep them in contention.
Cork were finding it difficult to deal with Tipperary’s running game, with the likes of Caitlin Kennedy, Rosin Daly, and Elaine Fitzpatrick driving forward at every opportunity.
Add on the considerable talent of Aisling Moloney up front and Cork knew they were in a game.
To be fair to the Rebels they dominated for long periods of the first half but never looked like pulling away on the scoreboard and did miss a number of goal chances, but on the flip side all of Cork’s scores came from play which they deserve massive credit for.
This was their first game back and no doubt a bit of rustiness didn’t help, with some playing their first game since the All-Ireland final last December.
Cork had taken the option not to look for challenge matches in the last few weeks and instead opted for A v B in training sessions.
Such is the strength of the squad these would have been very competitive and the fitness level of Cork certainly showed on the night, something that Ephie made reference to afterwards.
But at that Tipperary would have smelled a possible upset when taking to the pitch for the second half. But they simply had no answer to Cork’s massive increase in pace and intensity, no doubt helped by a few strong words from manager Ephie Fitzgerald at the break.
Cork outscored their opponents 2-6 to 0-2 in the second half and, in truth could have won by more were it not for a number of squandered goal chances.
No doubt they would have found the back of the net in a few weeks with more game time under their belts.
The key period was the 11 minutes or so after half-time where Cork held Tipperary scoreless and hit 1-2 at the other end to go seven clear.
The goal was scored by half-time substitute Libby Coppinger, one of three changes at the break, with O’Leary and Finn both pointing. Coppinger turned provider for Cork’s third major, stringing the final pass on a sweeping move that was finished by another sub Katie Quirke.
That killed the game as a contest and from here on Cork looked very comfortable and were able to introduce a few more players to get game time ahead of the Dublin and Waterford league ties.
Afterwards, Ephie admitted they were not happy with the first-half performance but put it down to a combination of match rustiness and some nerves.
He was full of praise for the second-half showing, along with their fitness levels, which he said was a major element in their win.
“The girls are phenomenally fit,” said Ephie Fitzgerald. “We scored three goals and possibly could have got seven or eight.
“But we were not happy at half-time with the way we were playing. There were some nerves out there as well as a bit of rustiness. While we had chances I don’t think we ever got a flow to our game and we were finding it difficult at times to deal with the physicality of Tipperary.
“We made a few changes at half-time and the game opened up in the second half and we started to create a lot more chances and we had a fair few goal chances. We took three but we could have had seven or eight, but that’s not a bad thing either as it gives us plenty to work on going forward.
“One of the key things we learned from tonight is we need to be more consistent over the hour and we will have to work on that ahead of the Dublin game next weekend.”
An issue that arose last week was the announcement that there would be no U14, U16 or U18 All-Ireland championships this year and Ephie said he was disappointed for all involved and that they should go ahead.
“I would say it’s very difficult to say to a 16 or 17-year-old that you are not playing any championship. They will only get one or two opportunities to play at that level.
“My own belief is that it could have been played, but do I think that it will change now, probably not. It’s very disappointing and we are trying to encourage girls to play the game.
If you miss minor it goes against you. Erika O’Shea would be an example of that, she didn’t have any minor championship and it denies them an opportunity of playing.
"I know no one could have foreseen Covid but I think it could have been squeezed in and run in conjunction with the senior championship.
“But do I think it will change? No, disappointing but what do you do, that’s just the way it is. The powers that be obviously have their reasons and they think it could have affected the clubs with a possible overlap, but I think it could have been run off quickly.
“It’s unlikely to happen at this stage but I do think we need to do as much as we can to develop the game and playing at venues like this one will only help that in the long term.”