Cork will have to fire on all cylinders to overpower Mayo

CORK, surprisingly, contest the Suzuki Ladies Football National League final in Pearse Stadium tomorrow against all-conquering Mayo, who were only allowed back into the competition at the 11th hour.

The game is part of an attractive triple-header, which sees Galway hurlers play Limerick and their footballers replaying their League semi-final with Tyrone.

Qualification for the final represents a major achievement for Cork. It follows their success in the Division Two final last year, when they defeated Roscommon. Earlier in the season, Cork clubs recorded a treble in the All-Ireland club finals, Donoughmore winning the senior title, Naomh Aban the intermediate and Gabriel Rangers the junior. On the broader front, it's seen as a reward for the work done at under-age level and the coaching expertise of Donegal-born Charlie McLoughlin, who is involved with Nemo Rangers.

In Fr Kelleher's view, progress at inter-county level was inevitable. "It formed the basis for our present success,'' he added. Cork won four All-Ireland U14 titles in a row from 2000, and he was involved with them. In addition, All-Ireland titles were won at U16 and minor level.

"The important thing is we have been able to keep the players. On this year's minor team, 14 of the players who started in the All-Ireland final in 2000 are still involved. Last year, when Kerry beat us by a point in the Munster semi-final, there were 14 minors on the field at the final whistle.''

He credits Charlie McLoughlin with playing a major role in the development of the sport, saying: "the main work was done by him. He started summer camps and schools of excellence away back in 1997."

Mayo have arrived at this stage relatively unscathed, the only bruising coming in early February when Kerry overpowered them at home. Since then, they have looked comfortable and more settled.

This Mayo team has been at the top for a long time, and the intensity of effort involved in that takes its toll. But players like Cora Staunton, Claire Egan, Marcella and Christina Heffernan, Helena Lohan and Nuala O'Shea all of whom have played in the last five All-Ireland finals still appear to have the same appetite for success, and all were central figures in the second-half turnaround that saw Mayo overcome Waterford in the semi-final. In addition, Yvonne Byrne is playing her best football at centre-back, while Mary T Garvey and Claire O'Hara are also solid in defence, and up front, younger players like Trina McNicholas, Martha Carter, Annette Gallagher and Kelly Colleran have added a new dimension to Mayo's play.

For Cork, a senior final is all new, but they handled their semi-final win over Galway, who had defeated them just two weeks previously, with style.

Seven of last year's All-Ireland winning minor team will line out tomorrow and if they are to win Norita Kelly, Rena Buckley, Angela Walsh, Bríd Stack, Geraldine O'Flynn, Briege Corkery and captain Juliette Murphy will be expected to assume key roles.

"A mixture of club success and underage success is transferring to the senior team now. That said, Mayo are a good side and will be favourites," says team manager Mary Collins.

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