After taking over from 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 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,” 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 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. They’re a phenomenal bunch of girls, self-motivating and at half-time, they felt they weren’t doing themselves justice.”
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 when Cork beat Galway.
“She a super player, very difficult to mark,” said Fitzgerald. “She’s recovering from glandular fever and it’s been debilitating for her. But there’s fierce competition for places. She hasn’t done anything 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 and Dublin could never gain a foothold.
In a repeat of the last two All-Ireland finals, Orla Finn hit seven points 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, turned the screw to set up a final clash with Mayo.
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.
S Aherne 0-5 (4f), L Davey 0-3, N McEvoy 0-2, N Ryan 0-1.
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.
M Ambrose for Kelly (h.t.), E Scally for Hutchings (h.t.).
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.
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).
G Carmody (Mayo).