SATURDAY night’s chastening Lidl LGFA National League defeat to Dublin means Cork have a huge amount of work to do before the All-Ireland championship.
There is no getting away from the fact that a second National League defeat in a row represents an unwanted start to Shane Ronayne, his management team and players’ season.
To be fair, Cork couldn’t have asked for two tougher challenges than facing reigning All-Ireland champions Meath and Dublin, both away from home, to kick-off 2022. The LGFA League fixtures scheduler has been anything but kind to Cork.
Any new manager needs time to settle into such a demanding role. The same is true for his backroom personnel and a panel desperate to rebound from the previous year’s gut-wrenching All-Ireland semi-final defeat. Remember too, that Munster champions and All-Ireland club runners-up Mourneabbey’s contingent has yet to return.
Results aside, what you are looking for at this time of the year are positive signs, seeds of hope and indications of what’s to come once the All-Ireland championship rolls around.
In that regard, Cork can at least take solace from some of the individual displays during their two league performances to date, despite the results.
Cork proved more than a match for Meath in their league opener and it was a game they could have won but for some self-inflicted errors. There can be no arguments with the Dublin result on Saturday night. The better team won and by a deserved margin.
These are elements that can be worked on and fixed ahead of the All-Ireland senior championship. They have to be.
The same is true of concentration lapses, two of which allowed Meath net a pair of goals and cement victory. One of the main positives to come out of Cork’s, losses has been their ability to hold their opponents scoreless, from play, for long stretches.
Granted, Dublin repeatedly punished the Rebels during the opening half on Saturday evening.
Yet over the course of two league matches, Cork’s half-back line of Laura O’Mahony, Melissa Duggan and Erika O’Shea has excelled in possession.
O’Shea has been the brightest bright spark during Cork’s torrid opening to the campaign. Handed the task of marking Vikki Wall and Jennifer Dunne in consecutive games, the Macroom All-Star has been Cork’s most effective player and looks set for another productive year.
Up front, Katie Quirke has continued her excellent form from the 2021 season. Although living off scraps of possession, the Bride Rovers forward had proven a handful for both the Meath and Dublin defences. Quirke deserves a run in the senior championship team based on her two displays to date.
Winning National League titles was something Cork LGFA supporters would have experienced in the recent past. That will not be the case this year. The reality is that 2022 represents the beginning of a new era for Cork ladies football even though there are plenty of experienced players present.
A good run in this year’s National League was desirable but failing to get to the knockout stages is not the end of the world either.
Developing a sustained, winning formula is something Ronayne achieved with Mourneabbey but that took time. I’m convinced the new Cork manager and this panel of footballers is capable of achieving success, albeit at the much more difficult senior inter-county level.
The new LGFA split-season approach means Ronayne has far less of that precious commodity, time, and a much more compressed fixtures calendar. The raw material is there for another run at the All-Ireland but a crowded field including the likes of Meath, Dublin, Mayo, Donegal and Armagh means there will be no margin for error.
Victory over Waterford is essential to round off Cork’s National League campaign on a high note. Then, preparations for this year’s All-Ireland senior championship can begin in earnest for a Cork side that will be eager to hit the ground running.