DUBLIN might be the All-Ireland champions and favourites to push on for six in a row this summer, but Cork veteran Ciara O'Sullivan was a worthy inaugural winner of the PwC GPA Player of the Month award for May in ladies football.
The Mourneabbey playmaker excelled for Ephie Fitzgerald's side as they beat Tipp and Waterford, but lost to their Dublin, in the opening stages of the league.
She explained getting to play at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in two of those games was hugely enjoyable, having missed out on the opportunity at the outset of 2020 due to injury.
"It was unreal. This is my 14th year playing with Cork and it was my first time playing in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The facilities are unbelievable and the weather made it like summer football, which gave it a championship feel. It's great progress for ladies football to be playing in the big stadiums.
"It was a big deal for me to play in Páirc Uí Chaoimh before I retire, which won't be too far away."
More recently they were in Dungarvan, where despite a victory over the Déise the talking point was the failure of Austin O'Connell to award a penalty for a blatant foul on Katie Quirke. For his reaction, Ephie Fitzgerald was sent to the stands.
"It was an interesting decision to say the least, even the commentator said 'oh she was fouled for a penalty'.
"Now on the other side for my goal I was wondering was I going to get blown up for being in the square."
The game also lacked the bite of the preceding jousts that were live on TG4.
"The two games in Páirc Uí Chaoimh were good because there was a bit more physicality on show, which we didn't get against Waterford but talking to the referee that's the message they're getting from Croke Park. I personally prefer a bit more contact and physicality, because otherwise from a neutral point of view it's stop-start and doesn't make for good viewing."
The clash with their great rivals was a pulsating tie, 3-15 to 4-11, which was hailed as a great advertisement for the best of the sport.
However, O'Sullivan says the praise was a bitter pill to swallow due to the result, even if there were positives for the Rebels.
“I think what was good was the fightback and the way we went at 50/50 balls and not being kind of physically dominated which we would have been in previous years so there definitely was a lot of positives to take from it,” explained O’Sullivan on a Zoom call with the media.
“It’s not even physically in terms of what we’re doing in the gym or strength and conditioning-wise, it’s when it comes to the actual match (that we’re) not being bullied, pushed off the ball easily and stuff. Because we don’t let that happen against other teams and I don’t know why in recent years we kind of half stepped back a bit from Dublin and let them dictate the pace of the game.
O'Sullivan and sister Doireann are main-stays of a much-changed Cork side and have endured disappointing defeats on the big stage to the blue wave in All-Ireland finals and a semi-final in recent years. Whatever happens across the rest of the league, the ultimate aim is to push through to another rematch.
While her former Cork team-mate Bríd Stack headed to Australia to take up Aussie Rules this year, she's the only Leesider to make the switch.
“It’s actually something that surprised me that there never is actually a collective discussion on it and it hasn’t been mentioned.
“It’s good from that point of view. I know a few people have been offered trials and that but for whatever reason, whether it’s where people are at that point in time in terms of not being finished college or being in a job that they like, people haven’t taken up that opportunity.”
O'Sullivan previously turned down a winter trail for the AFLW, coming on the back of a long campaign with Mourneabbey.
“If I was to go travelling I think I’d prefer to just go travelling and not to play AFL. It won’t be something that I’ll be doing in the future anyway.”