Ephie Fitzgerald hailed his “phenomenal” Cork ladies senior footballers after watching them advance to a ninth successive Lidl National Football League Division 1 final, writes Jackie Cahill.
After taking over from his all-conquering predecessor Eamonn Ryan in January, there was inevitable ‘getting to know you period’ and while Cork started their 2016 League campaign in sluggish fashion, they’re now clicking into top gear.
On Saturday at St Brendan’s Park in Birr, they came from two points down at half-time to win by seven against Dublin, outscoring the Sky Blues by 0-11 to 0-2 in the second half.
Both of Dublin’s second half points were Sinead Aherne frees and as Cork turned up the heat, they had little trouble in setting up a 12th League final in 13 seasons, and just an hour away from four-in-a-row now.
“We seemed to be very nervous early on, maybe a little bit sluggish,” Fitzgerald reflected.
“To be fair to Dublin, they had a good system going, they were getting a lot of girls behind the ball and breaking quickly on us.
“They had a fair bit of space in front of our goal. We did drop five or six balls into the keeper’s hands as well and I did feel that two points (down) at half-time, and the wind was quite substantial, I wasn’t particularly worried.
“In the second half, Dublin only scored a couple of points so from that point of view it probably reflects the domination we had.
“But they’re a phenomenal bunch of girls, self-motivating and at half-time, they felt themselves that they weren’t doing themselves justice.
“I didn’t have to say a whole lot, they came out and upped their performance, everybody contributed.”
Fitzgerald name-checked Eimear Scally, scorer of three second half points, and rightly so.
Scally came off the bench in 2014 to net a crucial goal against Dublin in the All-Ireland senior final and she was superb in last year’s minor decider as Cork beat Galway.
But Fitzgerald revealed that a bout of glandular fever has left Scally playing catch up this year.
“She a super player, very difficult to mark,” said Fitzgerald.
“She’s recovering from glandular fever and it’s been very debilitating for her. “But there’s fierce competition for places. She hasn’t done anything really since before Christmas.”
A couple of other tweaks made Cork better. Marie Ambrose came in and allowed Roisin Phelan to move to the half-back line.
Cork found a platform to drive on from and Dublin, as Fitzgerald acknowledged, “found it very difficult to get out.”
Dublin weren’t too pleased with Deirdre O’Reilly’s high challenge on Lyndsey Davey that forced her off late on but Cork’s ability to play on the edge, and sometimes beyond, is one of the many factors that’s contributed to their continued dominance.
In a repeat of the last two All-Ireland finals, Orla Finn collected a total of seven points for the rampant Rebelettes but Cork were 1-4 to 0-9 down before turning to play with the breeze in the second half.
Ciara O’Sullivan scored Cork’s goal midway through the first half and against a depleted Dublin outfit, they turned the screw to set up a final clash with Mayo.
Scorers for Cork: O Finn 0-7 (4f), C O’Sullivan 1-1, E Scally 0-3, R Buckley, B Corkery, A Walsh & H Looney 0-1 each.
Scorers for Dublin: S Aherne 0-5 (4f), L Davey 0-3, N McEvoy 0-2, N Ryan 0-1.
CORK: M O’Brien; E Meaney, B Stack, R Phelan; V Foley, D O’Reilly, S Kelly; R Buckley, B Corkery; A Hutchings, C O’Sullivan, A Walsh; Á O’Sullivan, H Looney, O Finn.
Subs: M Ambrose for Kelly (h.t.), E Scally for Hutchings (h.t.).
DUBLIN: C Trant; O Carey, M Ní Scanaill, L Collins; C Barrett, S Finnegan, N Collins; A Connolly, N Healy; S Woods, L Davey, N Ryan; O Leonard, N McEvoy, S Aherne.
Subs: L Caffrey for Collins (43), S Goldrick for Barrett (45), A Conroy for McEvoy (53), S Furlong for Leonard (57), C Ruddy for Davey (60+1).
Referee: G Carmody (Mayo).