Brendan O’Brien on Cork ladies’ reaction to summer shock.
ASK most champions about what drives them on year after year and they will invariably point you towards past disappointments as opposed to previous successes.
So it is with the Cork ladies’ footballers.
The Munster side has claimed five All-Ireland titles and an equal haul of National Leagues in the last six years but it is the ones that got away that keep them coming back for one more shot at glory — and then another and another.
Today they are hot favourites to annex another league crown at the expense of a young and promising Laois at Parnell Park before turning their attention to the summer and a shot at redemption for last year’s disappointment.
Their world came tumbling down in 2010 when Tyrone turfed them out of the championship at the quarter-final stage.
For a side seeking its sixth straight title it was like being turned away from their own party.
“Last year when it all finished so abruptly for us it gave us time to think,” says captain Amy O’Shea.
“And then when we came back we just decided that we were going to go hell for leather for this and we have.
“The loss to Monaghan earlier this season is still in the backs of our minds as well and we want to rectify that but we know that Laois are going to be absolutely gunning for it. It will be hard won.”
Ah yes, that loss to Monaghan. Cork have stomped around the country like a bear with a pounding headache since their three-point defeat in Emyvale.
Mayo were thumped with 10 points to spare, Galway with 15 and Donegal twice with 25 and 24.
Only today’s opponents have refused to cower before them. Four points separated the sides in Portlaoise in March and the Leinster side’s upward graph continued with a surprise defeat of table-toppers Monaghan in the semi-final.
“Laois against Monaghan were the dark horses and I believe they went out that day and played outstandingly well. They work very hard, they are very dogged in defence and quick on the break. We are going to be very wary of them.”
In a game where 16-year olds are no strangers to starting spots, Cork are dripping in experience with players like O’Shea, Briege Corkery and Valerie Mulcahy.
“We thought we would see a lot of retirements, but it hasn’t happened,” says manager Noel O’Connor. “They are self-motivated.
People don’t realise that Cork went for years without winning anything and getting proper hidings off the likes of Waterford and Mayo.”
Such dark days have helped to guard against staleness and complacency. So too, has an influx of youth with players like Orla Farmer and Grace Kearney among those newcomers to elbow their way into the front ranks this season.
Other, less palatable, factors are pushing these Cork players to ever greater heights. Geraldine O’Flynn and Ciara O’Sullivan are only now back in training after suffering cruciate ligament injuries during the loss to Tyrone.
O’Shea knows only too well what it is to sit it out on the sidelines, having suffered two cruciates – one on each leg – and tearing medial ligaments which prevented her involvement in 2010.
“It comes down to whether your heart is in it or not,” she explains. “If your heart is in it you will keep going. None of these girls play for fame or fortune, they play because they absolutely love it.
“They play for the Cork jersey and there is great pride there. As long as that stays you can play until your legs give out or until you realise that you are getting over the hill or your performances have dropped but as long as that doesn’t happen I don’t see why they should stop.”
CORK: E Harte; A M Walsh, A Walsh, D O’Reilly; B Corkery, B Stack, A Sheehan; J Murphy, A Walsh; N Cleary, O Farmer, G Kearney; V Mulcahy, R Ní Bhuachalla, A O’Shea (capt).
LAOIS: C Dollard; A Quigley (capt), G Dunne, E Healy; A Taylor, L Hyland, J Moore; A Casey, T Lawlor; M Kirwan, A Moore, D Callinan; M Kirwan, S Doogue, G Weston.
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