IT’S a long trip to Mayo for Shane Ronayne and his Cork ladies football side for the opening round of the Lidl National Ladies Football League.
They are heading to the Connacht Centre of Excellence to take on the home county, with a 1.30pm throw-in on Sunday, for what will be a tough test for Cork.
Last season Ronayne said he didn’t take the league too seriously as he was getting to know the players and stamp his mark on the side. Losses to Meath and Dublin meant they faced Waterford in a must-win game to ensure they stayed in the top flight.
That they did, but their championship campaign came to an end at the quarter-final stage against Sunday’s opponents and have no doubt that loss is still fresh in his mind.
A lot has changed since then, with a number of high-profile players like Orla Finn and Eimear Scally departing the squad and new players coming.
Add in the returning Erika O’Shea along with the Kiely twins, Eimear and Daire, and it will be a new-look Cork side this year.
No matter what happens on Sunday it won’t define the Rebels’ year, but it would be a huge boost to get off to a winning start.
Ronayne doesn’t need anyone to tell him that Sunday will be a tough test.
“We have learned a lot from last year and we have some new players in and I think there are things we can improve on from last year, both as a management and a squad,” said Ronayne.
We have a lot of work done already this year, they went back to the gym in the first week of September and have a huge amount behind them already. We went back on the field around the start of November.
“We are looking forward to the weekend and getting going, we have a lot of new players in the squad who played well underage with Cork, and others who played well with their clubs and are being given opportunities.
“So we’re excited about the league campaign and also it’s great that it’s back to a full league with seven games so we get the chance to see as many players as we can.
“It gives us the chance to try and blood players and for them to get some experience of playing inter-county football. There is a big step up from club football and from underage inter-county football.
“It’s going to be a tough trip to Mayo on Sunday and even though we didn’t do the things we spoke about before the game, they were very impressive when they beat us in the championship last year.
“They are trying to build on that, they have lots of good players, and being away from home in your first game is always a tough task. We would have loved a home game, but that’s the way it is.
“Three of our first four games are away, but then we have three at home, but we will just have to get on with it.
It is a tough start but we want to right the wrongs of last year on Sunday.”
With players like Martina O’Brien, Eimear Scally, Orlagh Farmer, Ashling Hutchins, Caoimhe Moore, Aine O’Sullivan, and Orla Finn retiring, it will very much be a new-look side this season.
But Isobel Sheehan, Abigail Ring, Ellen Twomey, and Caoimhe O’Callaghan, among others, are getting the chance to stake a claim for a championship spot and they will only be bursting to get going.
It’s not going to be easy, but it just might be a pleasant journey home for the Rebels on Sunday night.