In modern-day ladies’ football, the retention of All-Ireland titles by Cork is nothing new.
While 10 titles in the past 11 years at senior level have redefined the sport, the back-to-back minor championships of 2015 and ’16 are worth remarking on too, given the way underage teams change through necessity.
A 2-19 to 4-9 triumph against Dublin on the bank holiday weekend made it two in a row, with the side honoured as the August winners of the Rebel Óg monthly award. One of the Cork starlets was captain Laura Cleary of Éire Óg, one of the survivors from last year’s victory.
“I think there was maybe five of us from the starting team and a few more then were subs,” he says.
“The experience of girls being there last year really stood to us, as we would have been used to it. We didn’t have the same nerves that others might have had and that was a help.
“Most of us would have started when we were 13 or 14 and have been there the whole way through We’re all such good friends at this stage and we know exactly how we play, I think we’re all extremely comfortable playing together.”
Since first donning the red jersey, this group has only experienced one loss, against Kerry at U14 level, and even then they bounced back to claim Munster and All-Ireland titles. The bad news for everyone else is that the appetite for glory isn’t sated yet.
“I think there always is that pressure to win,” Cleary says.
“Everyone expects us to and nobody really wants us to in the other counties but we never get sick of winning, we want it more and more.
“I was captain because we won the county last year, so I was given the job, but I think that there were other leaders on the pitch. I probably wasn’t always the one giving the speeches in the dressing room, the likes of Aisling O’Sullivan and Beatrice Casey were brilliant to drive on the team.
“We have a lot of leaders, it wasn’t just down to me.” While the final saw Dublin threaten to mount a fightback, Cork were always in control and good value for the four-point win. The previous game, the semi-final against Galway, was one they had to dig out, though.
“The final against Dublin was unbelievably tough but the semi-final, there was nothing between us.
“The last kick of the game, Galway had a shot on goal and our keeper Mairead O’Sullivan made an amazing save. We could easily have lost that day, we were up two points and we would have had no complaints if we had lost.
“I think we really believed that we could do it after that game.” And that they did, guided by Cleary’s father, two-time All-Ireland senior medallist John. Are there perils to being coached by Dad?
“I’m used to it, he has been training me since I started,” he says. “The only difference is that he gives out to me a bit more than everyone else!”
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