With Bríd Stack, Deirdre O’Reilly, Rena Buckley, Briege Corkery, Vera Foley and Annie Wash set to miss the league’s opening rounds, it’ll be a largely experimental side Ephie Fitzgerald puts out against the Kingdom.
Cork, similarly depleted this time last year, lost their opening two games of the league before hitting their stride to complete the four-in-a-row. You’d imagine after 12 years of dominance, someone would have them figured out. But no, Dublin, Mayo and the rest of the chasing pack continue to piece the puzzle together.
It was expected that the wheels of the red juggernaut would loosen following Éamonn Ryan’s departure ahead of last season. Instead, Fitzgerald stepped up to the plate and the titles continued to be collected.
Now Briege Corkery tells us that while Ryan was instrumental in delivering success, players wearing the red shirt have spent the last decade making key decisions on the field without instruction or, at times, agreement from the line. With 10 minutes remaining in the 2014 All-Ireland final, Eimear Scally was readied on the sideline. Bear in mind now that the 17-year old had never played at Croke Park on the biggest afternoon on the ladies football calendar. Cork, by this juncture, are halfway through clawing back a 2-10 to 0-6 deficit. The instruction was for Scally to go wing-forward. She argued that she’d be more dangerous closer to goal. Four minutes after her introduction in the left corner, Scally collected a Ciara O’Sullivan pass and blasted to the net.
Corkery has a similar tale. In the 2006 All-Ireland final against Armagh, she was selected at right corner-back, but found herself irrelevant as the game entered a critical stage.
“They gave me a man-marking role in the final which isn’t my forte at all. I don’t think I could mark a chicken going across the road even if I knew the direction they were going in! At one stage in that game, we were down by three points. Sinead O’Reilly was playing in front of me and I just turned to Sinead and said, ‘go back and mark my player because I am just not doing a good enough job’. It was going against Éamonn’s decision, but I just felt the job I was doing wasn’t good enough. It was either make a decision myself or sit on the sideline and sulk.” They pulled through by the minimum on that occasion.
“Eamonn was great for us, he really let people make their own decisions, provided it was in the best interests of the team and not for your ego. If someone tells you to do something or go somewhere on the field, you respect their decision. We’ve tried to trust each other as much as we can . Éamonn gave us the confidence to think for ourselves. Ephie has kept it going.”