Having beaten the Ulster champions by two points in last year’s All-Ireland final, the Rebels saw the tables turned as Monaghan triumphed in this year’s national league decider. Cork’s last championship outing was an 8-27 to 0-2 win over Donegal in the quarter-final but Nollaig Cleary, who scored 3-3 in that game, knows this will be a much sterner test.
“We’d take a win by a point at this stage,” she admitted. “I suppose it’s not the most ideal way to prepare for such a big match, but that’s the way the draw went and we can only play what’s in front of us.
“We’d try to take the positives from it in that we put in a good team performance and some girls came off the bench and impressed so there’s huge competition for places.
“The way the game has gone now anyway you need 20 players to win so it’s good we have options.”
Given how close the previous encounters have been, Cleary knows Cork will need to play to their potential if they are to progress to a final meeting with Kerry, whom they beat in the Munster final.
“At this stage, you’d have to make Monaghan favourites,” she acknowledges.
“In the league final they were very impressive and beat us well even if the scoreline made it look close.
“The challenge for us is to reverse that, and it’s good to have a team that are putting it up to you as it forces you to up your game. There’s no doubting that we’ll have to be at 100%.”
Cleary feels the league final loss may work in Cork’s favour this afternoon.
“You have to learn from your defeats,” she reasons. “We spoke about it afterwards and we knew we didn’t perform and that improvements were needed. At the same time, Monaghan did play well, you can’t take that away from them. I think they felt that they left the All-Ireland behind them and wanted to atone for that.”
With six of the last seven All-Irelands, Cork owe nothing to anyone. The desire to keep winning never abates, however.
“I think the hunger is definitely still there,” Cleary says. “None of us would be training since January if we weren’t still hungry. When you win something you get a taste for it and you want to win more.”
CORK: E Harte; A M Walsh, B Stack, D O’Reilly; B Corkery, R Buckley, G O’Flynn; J Murphy, N Kelly; L McMahon, C O’Sullivan, A Walsh; N Cleary, V Mulcahy, G Kearney.
MONAGHAN: L Martin; G McNally, S Courtney, C Reilly; T McNally, N Fahy, A McAnespie; A Casey, E McElroy; C McAnespie, L McEnaney, E McCarron; C McConnell, N Kindlon, C Courtney.