By Jackie Cahill
Ciara O’Sullivan has been retained as Cork’s ladies senior football team captain for the 2016 season – and insists the Rebelettes are not panicking despite losing their first two Lidl National League fixtures.
Cork suffered defeat at the hands of Cora Staunton-inspired Mayo in the first round before Munster rivals Kerry came from behind to beat them last Sunday in Brosna.
But Ephie Fitzgerald’s holders are tipped to claim their first Division 1 points of the season when they welcome Tyrone to Mallow next Sunday.
There were positives to emerge from the Kerry game last Sunday, however, as O’Sullivan believes performance levels were up a notch from the Mayo game.
And Cork also welcomed back ten-time All-Ireland medallists Deirdre O’Reilly and Bríd Stack for their first competitive outings of the season.
It now appears that all of Cork’s seasoned campaigners will be back in harness – although former Footballer of the Year Geraldine O’Flynn is currently sidelined with cruciate knee ligament damage for the second time, a fate that also befell 25-year-old O’Sullivan in the past.
O’Sullivan notes that two losses to date is “not an ideal start” but she insisted: “I don’t think we’re panicking just yet.
“With the change from Eamonn (Ryan) and with the new management, it’s just taking a while to get used to.
“We’re on the right track and the improvement in performance, if not result, from the Mayo and Kerry games was massive.
“We’d be hoping for more of the same improvement each week.”
O’Sullivan admits that she’s still finding her feet this year as her club Mourneabbey contested an All-Ireland senior club final in December, leaving her with little time to recuperate following an exhausting 2015 season.
And she revealed: “We’re only getting back into it now and we’re definitely behind the others in terms of fitness.
“That’s the main area at the moment – definitely our fitness.
“Our hunger in the Kerry game was definitely there, we were winning until the last ten minutes and ran out of steam.
“It’s nothing too much to worry about now. We still have time to get fit and do work on that.”
During her month off in December, O’Sullivan took the opportunity to visit Las Vegas for six nights, spending New Year’s Eve there.
But the experienced forward carried “disappointment” with her, as the news was confirmed shortly before Christmas that Cork would begin the New Year without Ryan at the helm.
She explained: “My first reaction was disappointment, for ourselves that we were going to lose Eamonn but we talked about it and Eamonn owes us nothing so if that’s what he wanted to do, we were going to support him and let him know that.
“He gave us 12 years of pure commitment, we were disappointed that he was leaving and sad because since a lot of us began playing with Cork, Eamonn is all we’ve known.”
But O’Sullivan confirmed that Fitzgerald is already putting his own positive stamp on the Cork set-up.
She said: “Brilliant, to be honest. I would have nothing but positive things to say about him.
“It’s a daunting task coming in trying to follow Eamonn but he’s very approachable.
“He hasn’t come in and tried to change a load of things, he’s tweaking here and there and bringing in stuff he would believe in.
“All of the team are very open to him. We’re working over the last few weeks on different things in different matches and I think he will be excellent. We’re looking forward to the year ahead.”
Cork captured a third Lidl Division 1 League crown in a row last year but the pressure is on to reach the knockout phase after a poor start.
And O’Sullivan acknowledged: “If we have any hope of being there come the knockout stages of the League, we can’t afford any more losses.
“It’s time to get points on the board and we’re looking to start that on Sunday.”
And she insisted: “I don’t think we’re any more or less vulnerable than any other year.
“Dublin, Mayo and Galway were all as good last year as this year, maybe a little bit better this year but we hope we are too.
“Eamonn never kicked a football for us and Ephie won’t either – it’s down to the players.”
Spoken like a true captain.