The current group of Cork players are in new territory tomorrow — in many ways, writes Valerie Mulcahy.
They venture down to Fitzgerald Stadium, the home of Kerry football, in a match that will decide who makes it to the Munster final against Waterford on July 8.
At the same time, it is old territory for the Munster Championship.
Cork have reached the Munster final every year since 2004, winning 11 of those 13 finals, including nine consecutive titles in a row. In doing this they have contributed to the incredible cyclical nature of ladies football. Although all sport experiences dominance of one team from time to time, ladies football has become renowned for its cycles of supremacy.
Until Cork’s cycle began, Waterford had been the reigning champions of Munster for as long as I could remember.
Between 1991 and 2002, they had won 10 Munster titles. Before them, Kerry had enjoyed a decade of Munster final success themselves.
I have not forgotten, as a young Cork player, the days when we used to set off down the N25 to Fraher Field, Durgarvan to play an overpowering Waterford side in their own backyard. It felt like going out to my own backyard and playing my older brother who held the upper hand in terms of strength, experience and dominance. With inevitable results. Still, the learning was monumental even if we did leave feeling like little fish in a big pond.
As it would turn out, we would start a cycle of dominance of our own. During our spell at the top, Waterford played at intermediate level for several years before returning to the senior grade last year. They have worked hard to develop their team and are fighting back towards the top again.
They have almost come full circle by securing a first Munster final place since 2007, when they lost to Cork by 3-7 to 1-6.
I know from experience, in such a highly competitive and evolving sport, how difficult it is to reach a place of dominance and how challenging it is to maintain it. It is only a matter of time before the balance shifts in favour of another team. The aim is to put off that handover as long as possible and fight to wrestle it back if you lose it.
For the experienced players on the Cork team, the recent defeat to Waterford in Fraher Field has put them back in old territory. However, for the team overall — a young side not accustomed to bad days — that loss is unfamiliar. I’m sure many of the players can’t recall a time when Cork weren’t contesting a Munster final.
Cork can draw on the experience of contesting so many Munster finals together and on the determination to carry their own legacy further. I know the Cork team will be ready for the challenge against Kerry.
It is natural that newer players will be put to the test. With Rena Buckley’s absence for this year’s championship, Cork have lost a treasure trove of experience and knowledge. Rena is the ultimate team player who is calm and collected in all situations. A steadying force for the team, irrespective of where she played.
For the next generation of Cork players, it is necessary to see the silver lining — that her absence this year provides an opportunity for players who have invariably learned so much from her, to become leaders and versatile team players themselves.
It is not just a constant shift of overall success that drives the cycle in ladies football but the ability of the individuals within the teams themselves to work toward the greater good, together and for each other.
Cork are fortunate to have established players like Brid Stack and Annie Walsh, who themselves picked up player of the match awards in the 2011 and 2012 Munster finals, as well as countless Munster titles between them, remaining on the team.
They know what it takes to bounce back from a defeat.
They know what is required to come back when you are down and how a loss can be the greatest learning tool — an unwanted shock, but a necessary rebooting of the system.
They know that winning isn’t just about the desire to win but about not giving up. It’s about giving it all you have got until the bitter end.
There will be increased anticipation and enthusiasm that they have the opportunity to play in Fitzgerald Stadium tomorrow.
It is uplifting to see that a match of such importance is being played in a pitch that signifies the weight of this tie.
Kerry always bring great support with them and it is sure to be a thriller for football fans on all sides.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved