‘You’d have a lot of friends mocking you that you haven’t played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh’

Cork captain Ciara O’Sullivan will lead the Rebels against Kerry as they bid to reclaim the Munster title at Cork IT. The Mourneabbey forward is gunning for her eighth Munster medal to match her tally of eight All-Irelands.

‘You’d have a lot of friends mocking you that you haven’t played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh’

Q: How do you reflect on 2017?

A: It was a building year for us. We had a lot of new players and we lost a lot of experienced players. While we didn’t win Munster or the All-Ireland, we did win the League. That was very big for us given how young our team was. The average age of that team was 22 or 23. While we weren’t successful last year, it did give younger players a lot of experience playing the likes of Mayo and Donegal.

Q: Six of the 2016 All-Ireland champions started the Munster semi-final, including yourself. Since then, between Rena Buckley, Briege Corkery, Deirdre O’Reilly and Bríd Stack alone, you’ve lost 44 All-Ireland medals worth of experience. That’s some transition.

A: That’s the nature of sport. You’re always going to have people coming and going. We’ve been very lucky in Cork with our underage structure — they’ve won the last three minor All-Irelands. If you get two or three of those each year, they’ll bring more competition for places, because it does take a while to replace the people we’ve lost.

Q: Do you feel a responsibility to offer the same help to the younger players that you would’ve received from those players?

A: Definitely. I was used to being one of the youngest players and now I’m the third or fourth oldest on the team. It happened very quickly. I was very lucky to start in 2008 when they had won three All-Irelands, so I just jumped on the bandwagon. We’ve people who have never been captain but are great leaders, they speak up and help me in that regard. If we can try to give some of that leadership to the girls coming in, we owe it after getting it ourselves.

Q: Are you a good captain for making speeches or is it more leading by example?

A: (Laughs) I’d not be great for the speeches. I keep them short and sweet — well, I dunno about sweet but definitely short enough. I’d try to lead more by example — definitely not in regards to shooting… I think they’d prefer altogether if I shopped shooting! But in terms of training hard and work-rate, I’d try to lead by example more so than talking about it — I’d like to think so anyway!

Q: This Cork team isn’t used to losing, but Mayo ended your drive for an All-Ireland seven-in-a-row last year and a League six-in-a-row this spring. How does this team react to losses like that?

A: We have suffered big losses in the past so it’s not new to anyone. It’s just about going again. We do have very young and eager players and we have been progressing nicely. While we were beaten in the League semi-final by Mayo, we had a very competitive League — other than losing to Dublin by a point, we’d been unbeaten. It was nearly taken for granted for a while by people outside the camp that we would win and it’s just reminding people that it can’t be taken for granted.

Q: Does that make winning this Munster final more important?

A: Yeah, nobody likes losing and the girls were very disappointed we didn’t even reach the Munster final last year. We’re delighted to be back in one. Winning becomes a habit and it does set you up for a better year if you can win the Munster final. While it sets you up for a better draw in the All-Ireland, we’re just focusing on winning back Munster.

Q: What was your reaction to CIT being announced as the venue after the talk about Páirc Uí Chaoimh hosting the final?

A: Before it was announced, we knew it wasn’t going to be in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. We’d been told that you can’t play the three matches on one pitch in one day, which is out of the hands of any Cork County Board. I think it’s a Munster Council rule. I was delighted with CIT. That’s where the ladies county finals are on, it’s a big open pitch, it’s a nice stand for the crowd we probably will get. Of course, having never played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, I’d love to play there and hopefully we will some day. But once we knew it wasn’t going to be Páirc Uí Chaoimh or Páirc Uí Rinn, CIT was the next best option.

Q: Have you never played in new or old Páirc Uí Chaoimh?

A: I’ve never played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. We played one Munster final in Páirc Uí Rinn a few years ago.

Q: That’s quite a missing line from the CV when you’re playing with the Cork ladies footballers for so long.

A: You’d have a lot of friends who’d be playing male club football or hurling, who would’ve played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, mocking you that you haven’t played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. For some of us, this is our 11th year with Cork, so it would be nice to tick it off the list at some stage but I don’t think it’ll be this year.

Q: (Cork selector) James Masters said it was a “missed opportunity” to have the men’s and ladies’ finals together.

A: It did seem like the perfect opportunity when it was Cork and Kerry in both of them and they were both to be fixed in Cork. It seemed like a no-brainer originally. It’s outside our hands but to anyone looking in, it would seem like a missed opportunity.

Q: Kerry lost every game in the League and changed managers, but does the spice of the Cork-Kerry rivalry keep this final up for grabs?

A: You can never, ever read into Kerry in the League. We generally seem to get them in the first round and they maybe start back a little later than other teams but they always pull it together for Championship. If we’ve beaten them in the League, they’re always a different team in Championship. We’ll be expecting nothing less today.

Q: CIT is very much on Kerry’s way towards Páirc Uí Chaoimh, so I’m sure you’re looking for Cork fans to take in both Munster finals on Saturday?

A: Definitely. Traditionally, Kerry support football very well. Their semi-final against Waterford was played in Fitzgerald Stadium ahead of the Kerry men’s game and they had a big Kerry crowd in at that, so I’d anticipate that they will in CIT on Saturday as well. We’d be hoping that we’d get one too. Particularly when it’s at home for us, you’d like to make use of the home advantage and have the home crowd behind you.

Cork and Kerry throw in at 2pm in Cork IT, allowing supporters to take in both the Munster ladies football final and the men’s minor and senior finals. The possibility of a Páirc Uí Chaoimh triple-header was ruled out due to logistical reasons, while the nearby Páirc Uí Rinn is also in use by staff and umpires on the day. Kerry have won three of the last five Munster titles but Cork are favourites for victory.

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