Nine demanding campaigns, eight All-Ireland crowns, a similar haul of league titles. In truth, it was only a matter of time before the onset of staleness threatened to derail the red juggernaut.
For the Cork ladies footballers, their period of stagnation arrived in June of 2013. Successive defeats to Kerry brought the curtain down on their provincial dominance, their championship involvement almost ended at the hands of Armagh in round one of the qualifiers. Though the ship was righted and another championship secured later that year, all involved realised the panel required a fresh outlook.
Juliet Murphy and Elaine Harte hung up their boots over the winter and the group of players who had delivered 16 national titles since 2005 could not be expected to once again return to the well. Accepting as much, manager Eamonn Ryan unearthed a host of new talent in a bid to improve squad strength. Their league crown defended, the Munster title wrestled back from the Kingdom. Normal service restored.
“The whole set-up is far more settled this year by comparison with last year,” admitted wing-back Geraldine O’Flynn at an event to mark SuperValu’s sponsorship of the Cork Ladies.
“Juliet (Murphy) came back this time last year, this year we knew she was leaving for good. That was all said at the start of the year, who was staying and who was deciding to call it a day. There was no question marks over any player. We weren’t waiting for Juliet to come back or anyone else for that matter. We knew from the start of the year this was the way it was going to be for 2014. I think we are more settled as a result.
“Ten years is an awful long time on the road so of course new blood is going to be required at some stage. It is what we needed. We can’t be saying ‘what if’ if we get knocked out of the championship. Eamonn is making the changes as needs be. Some huge people have come into the team, the likes of Roisín Phelan, Grace Kearney, Vera Foley, Orla Finn and Emma Farmer. Given he has freshened it up there is no sense that 2014 will be our swansong, a feeling many got last year. These new players are playing like they have been there all the time. These new players have bought into that and want to do as well as we have done. They don’t want to let us down.”
Mayo stand in Cork’s path of a return to the semi-final stage, with O’Flynn admitting it was the westerners who provided the inspiration for Cork’s glory drive a decade ago.
“We have had the better of our encounters in recent times, but they were the team we wanted to replicate in 2004 and 2005.
“They were the team everyone wanted to replicate. They still have the experience. Cora Staunton is still on the edge of the square and she has been the best player of the last decade. It will be a huge test. This Mayo team have been great ambassadors for the sport and the team we looked up to when we started out. Tables have turned and they want to take us down now. It has been highlighted that quarter-finals are where the greatest danger lies. History has proven so in our case.”