Cork ladies footballers have issues to address after the league

Rebels had won 12 of the last 18 league titles, only missing out on making the final three times
Cork ladies footballers have issues to address after the league

Katie Quirke, Cork in action against Orlaith Duff and Mary Kate Lynch, Meath. Picture: John Quirke

LAST Sunday’s Lidl LGFA National Football League final double-header felt strange without Cork’s presence.

Armagh and Kerry’s Division 2 decider along with Donegal and Meath’s Division 1 showdown drew plenty of media attention and a decent attendance. All positive as far as the promotion of ladies football goes but not so much if you are a Cork LGFA supporter.

Since 2004, Cork has appeared in an astonishing 15 out of 18 National League Division 1 finals. Of those finals, Cork won 12, lost three and failed to make the decider in 2007, 2018 and 2022.

So, Cork LGFA supporters are used to travelling to Croke Park or wherever the National League decider is held at this time of the year. Not so in 2022.

NEW ERA

The reasons for the Rebel county’s absence from this year’s final are straightforward. New manager Shane Ronayne is in his first year at the helm and handed the toughest of opening league matches away to reigning All-Ireland champions Meath and last year’s runners-up Dublin.

Add to that, the absence of the senior panel’s Mourneabbey contingent who were involved in provincial and national senior club action right up to their All-Ireland final loss to Galway’s Kilkerrin-Clonberne.

Every manager needs that most precious of commodities when taking on such a high-profile job. That commodity is time.

The Cork senior’s last competitive outing was a Division 1B League victory over Waterford at MTU on Sunday, March 6. Since then, Ronayne and his management team have had ample opportunity to knuckle down and work with a panel of players determined to put this year’s league campaign behind them.

Sunday, July 31 is the confirmed date for this year’s All-Ireland LGFA senior final at Croke Park. No doubt that every Cork senior footballer will have circled that on their calendars.

Once the championship begins, it will be full throttle for Cork, hopefully, all the way to another All-Ireland final appearance. The work done between now and their championship opener in early June will be absolutely critical to Cork’s All-Ireland aspirations.

The Mourneabbey manager has had a good look at all the players at his disposal during pre and post-Christmas trials and throughout Cork’s three National League outings. As with his players, Ronayne will have learned a lot since the turn of the year, especially during those league fixtures.

There are issues for Cork to address coming out of their narrow loss away to Meath, disappointing defeat in Croke Park and workmanlike display in seeing off a relegation-threatened Waterford.

A functioning kick-out strategy is a minimum requirement for any serious All-Ireland contender. Cork’s restarts improved as the league campaign progressed as they won 12 out of their own 15 kick-outs against Meath and especially against Waterford where a high press repeatedly reaped scoring dividends.

OUTLIER

The outlier of Cork’s early season performances was in Croke Park. A stream of unforced errors, kick-out malfunctions and overall weak performance handed Dublin the easiest of victories. That type of display, or lack of display, simply cannot reoccur if Cork are to contend in 2022.

It is important to note that there have been plenty of positives from the new Cork manager’s early months in charge too.

Not least the emergence of Shauna Kelly and Aisling Hutchings’ burgeoning midfield partnership. In the absence of an injured Niamh Cotter, Kelly and Hutchings’ primary ball winning skills have become crucial to Cork’s attacking endeavours. Let’s hope both stay injury-free and build on their positive early-season efforts.

When attacking, Cork still possesses one of the most effective half-back lines in the country. Laura O’Mahony, Melissa Duggan and Erika O’Shea excelled during the National League with O’Shea, in particular, developing into one of Cork’s most dependable players. That trio’s ability to shut down opposing half-forward lines will be as vital as their attacking abilities in the months ahead.

Up front, and without the usual Mourneabbey presence, Cork’s forward line has slowly flourished. Orla Finn and Eimear Scally’s accuracy remains unwavering but Katie Quirke’s emergence has also caught the eye. This is a crucial year for the ultra-talented Bride Rovers forward whose consistent displays are a welcome bonus.

A word too for Emma Cleary and Libby Coppinger whose off-the-ball work often goes unnoticed. Also, Abbie O’Mahony, Dara Kiniry and Rachel Leahy’s excellent performances against Waterford demonstrated how each could contribute to Cork’s upcoming challenges.

The league is over and it is time for championship. Let’s hope a reinvigorated Cork LGFA senior panel hits the ground running and kicks on over the coming months.

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