CORK know they are in for a tough afternoon as they take on Donegal in the league semi-final tomorrow.
They've made two changes in personnel ahead of the clash at Tuam Stadium. Roisín Phelan and Libby Coppinger come into manager Ephie Fitzgerald’s starting line-up, with Méabh Cahalane and Katie Quirke moving to the bench this time.
Donegal are unchanged as they aim to build on the impressive nature of their performance against Galway last time out.
M O’Brien (c); S Kelly, R Phelan, E Meaney; E O’Shea, A Hutchings, M Duggan; M O’Callaghan, H Looney; O Finn, C O’Sullivan, E Spillane; S O’Leary, B O’Sullivan, L Coppinger.
A McColgan; N Carr, E McGinley, E Gallagher; A.M. Logue, Nicole McLaughlin, R Rodgers; K Herron, S Twohig; B McLaughlin, Niamh McLaughlin (c), N Boyle; N Hegarty, K Guthrie, G McLaughlin.
Having defeated Waterford in their final group game last Sunday they now have another competitive game as they build towards the championship in a few weeks.
They haven't made any secret that their main focus is on the championship this year and any extra games like this in the league are a bonus.
Last Sunday Waterford put it up to them and it took the experience of the likes of Ciara O'Sullivan, Hannah Looney, and Melissa Duggan to see Cork through, especially as they finished with 13 players.
Both Orla Finn and Maire O'Callaghan were sin-binned late on, which saw the Rebels under intense pressure for the last five minutes or so.
But they held on to go through and know that Donegal will be another step up tomorrow at Tuam Stadium in Galway.
Donegal have gone through the group stages undefeated, with wins over Mayo and Galway, two sides that are never easy to get the better of. They also beat Westmeath, but that is a game they would have been expected to win.
They are a strong, physical side and have plenty of talented players all over the pitch. In Geraldine McLaughlin and Karen Guthrie they have two of the top forwards in the game and in their 4-21 to 2-11 win over Galway, they scored 4-11 between them.
They will take some watching but their manager, Maxi Curran is also well aware of the quality of Cork and after Galway win said: “Next weekend is going to be a serious battle for us. It could be a reality check and we could get brought back to earth fairly quickly.”
Cork for their part won't have to be told that their showing against Waterford, particularly in the first half, will make it a long journey home on Saturday evening.
They were far from their best and it was really only for the first 15 minutes of the second-half that they played anywhere near their potential. In fairness, they probably weren't helped by the stop-start nature of the game with the referee a little bit too whistle-happy and he could have let a lot more go.
That said a marked improvement will be needed tomorrow for the Rebels to reach the final.
They have been unlucky with a number of injuries to key players with the likes of Niamh Cotter, Doireann and Aine Terry O'Sullivan, amongst others out and are unlikely to feature again tomorrow.
Libby Coppinger also had to sit out the Waterford game and they will be hoping she can play some part against Donegal. On the plus side, they are all getting close to being fit with Laura O'Mahony also on the way back.
Add in the fact Eimear Scally got 10 minutes or so under her belt and there were positives for Cork from last weekend.
Sadhbh O'Leary is getting better game by game and Ciara O'Sullivan has been outstanding so far in the league. These two are the type of forwards defenders hate to mark with their movement and pace making it almost impossible to stop them without fouling.
Add in another impressive performance in her second game back from Ashling Hutchings and hopefully come championship all will be positive for Cork.
Others they will look to include the likes of Hannah Looney and Orla Finn to try and reach the final.
Cork captain Martina O'Brien knows it's going to be really tough to win tomorrow.
“They have had a good run in the league and it's not going to be easy, no match is easy anyway when you see the competiviness of the second grade now. We will do a bit of looking at them, but it's all about ourselves and what we can do.
“We will hopefully be a bit fresher than the Waterford game and with our shooting boots on.”
With a number of dual players Martina again appealed for this to be looked at in the broader sense.
“The dual players are putting such a massive effort in and they hate missing even a training session. They need to separate the dates and for the promotion of both games it needs to happen and I think with both associations working together it can.
“It's for the players that it needs to as they want to play both codes and it should be possible to do so,” concluded Martina.