It may be an exaggeration to say their season starts here, but Cork captain Ashling Thompson is quick to admit that the All-Ireland champions were looking to shake off the cobwebs from the spring.
A relatively indifferent National League campaign saw them lose twice to Limerick before they overcame their neighbours with a contentious injury-time win in the Munster final last month.
Their inconsistent bid for consistency was not necessarily a deliberate approach, but Thompson can see the benefit in tailoring their season around the All-Ireland championship and the defence of their title, which starts today with a group opener in Waterford’s Walsh Park (5.15pm).
“I think you’re better off losing a few games than winning on the trot the whole time,” claims Thompson. “I know it’s great to make winning a habit, at the same time everyone wants that but sometimes it’s good to put you back in your box.
“We always seem to pull it together around quarter-final stages, but maybe some year that’s not going to be enough, we might get knocked out in the group stage.
“It’s not that we do it purposely - we just seem to pull it together at the right time.
“We’re not where we want to be right now, we’re kind of going through the motions at the minute so hopefully we can go out and get our first win against Waterford,” continues Thompson, who agrees that the league was a transitional period for the All-Ireland champions.
“You come from winning an All-Ireland but when you go back to training, it’s back to basics. It is a fresh year, a new start and there’s always going to be some sort of a change so I think that’s the best way to describe it – it’s transitional and we’re trying to find our feet. We haven’t yet but hopefully we do that in the [championship] group stages.”
Thompson goes so far as to describe Cork’s league campaign as “poor”, despite the fact that the two losses to Limerick were their only defeats, while they claimed three group wins including a one-point victory over eventual champions Kilkenny.
Thompson recognises the benefits of winning regularly, however.
She is part of a Milford side with a formidable record and the Cork captain admits that she is amazed by the county’s all conquering Ladies Football side.
“Some teams are just different,” she gushes. “The ladies footballers as well, I genuinely don’t know how they do it. They’re made of I don’t know what, but you see that’s been the same team for the last 10 years.
“There has been drop-outs here and there, like Valerie Mulcahy only retired this year but she’s been there for those 10 years, so it’s about that bonding together and I think the team we have now with Cork, if that escalates into the next 10 years, we might be winning games on the trot like they are.
“It’s about that togetherness and doing things for each other, not as an individual. I think that’s why they always seem to come out on top, they just die for each other and that’s what’s the most important thing.”
Having won back-to-back All-Irelands, similar expectations are piled on Thompson’s side with Cork priced as 9/4 favourites by the bookies to retain their title in September.
While they have not been hit by any retirements since their success last year, the Rebels captain claims that their team has yet to settle while name-checking the likes of Hannah Looney, Méabh Cahalane, and Libby Coppinger as stars on the rise. She insists three-in-a-row talk has not been entertained in the dressing room, however.
“We’re not focusing on the three in a row, that’s kind of been the talk but we don’t focus on that at all,” says Thompson. “It’s a new year, a new set-up, a new team, a new layout. It’s totally fresh… we focus on what’s in front of us and that’s the first round against Waterford.”
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