Cork 4-15 Laois 3-09
THEY haven’t gone away. The message from Parnell Park after Saturday’s Ladies NFL Division 1 final is that you write off Cork at your peril.
They may have suffered a shock defeat to Tyrone in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, to end six-in-a-row dreams, but the Leesiders are shaping up nicely for a tilt at the big September honours.
The spine of the team remains strong, with full-back Angela Walsh, centre-back Bríd Stack and midfielder Juliet Murphy showing no ill effects of their recent injury problems.
And manager Eamon Ryan was pleased to see Geraldine O’Flynn and Ciara O’Sullivan return to competitive action after cruciate knee ligament injuries last year.
O’Flynn came on in the 43rd minute to rapturous applause and O’Sullivan, introduced with over 30 minutes remaining, kicked three superb points.
Laois, managed by the county’s former Leinster SFC medallist Joe Higgins, trailed by just a point with 11 minutes of normal time remaining but they were blown away in the home straight.
Cork turned up the heat and hit 1-5 without reply to run out comfortable winners by nine points.
Ryan’s side won the second half by 2-10 to 1-4, after the sides were deadlocked at 2-5 apiece at half-time.
Higgins revealed: “I was in the Cork dressing room after the game. I told them that they’re the benchmark that everyone marks themselves against. They’re going to be there or thereabouts in the championship.
A sixth League title in seven seasons was hard earned but Cork dug in when the tie was going against them and fought back from a disastrous start which saw Laois charge 1-2 to 0-0 ahead within five minutes.
Ace forward Valerie Mulcahy hit 1-8 for Cork, including 1-5 from frees, while centre-forward Orlagh Farmer bagged a brace of goals, one of them a contentious second-half award. Referee Eugene O’Hare consulted at length with his umpires before the green flag was raised, after a falling Farmer forced the ball home on the 14-yard line.
Cork boss Ryan reflected: “We had a very long day. We were on the road since 10am, some since 8.30am, and you can lose focus. We were worried about the start and with good reason as it turned out.
“We were in trouble and we were lucky once or twice – Laois kicked wides when they could have scored points. Then we got a goal (Rhona Ní Bhuachalla) which brought us back into it.
“In the second half, when we went ahead, they pulled us back twice and it looked like it would go down to the wire. But in the last ten minutes, our substitutions worked well. Players were getting tired, new players came in and got to the pace of the game very quickly.”
Ryan downplayed his side’s championship ambitions: “We have Clare in the first round of the championship – that’s as far as we look. Last year we won the League but we were dumped out of the championship by Tyrone. We’ll just go game by game – it’s a cliché but there’s no other way you can approach it.”
Laois, beaten by Dublin last year’s Leinster decider and again in the All-Ireland semi-final, may have fallen at the final League hurdle but Higgins is pleased with the team’s progress. Their first championship test of the summer is against Kildare next month and Higgins has plenty of motivation.
He said: “Kildare beat us well in the first round of the League. They’re improving every year but we’re improving as well.
“We’re expecting a titanic battle and I think Leinster is wide open. You have Meath there, I know they got beaten against Dublin, but they’ll come back strong.
Dublin won’t have it all their own way. Who improves and learns most from the League going into the championship will come out on top.”
Scorers for Cork: V Mulcahy 1-8 (1-5f), O Farmer 2-0, R Ní Bhuachalla 1-0, C O’Sullivan 0-3, N Cleary 0-2, G Kearney & D O’Reilly 0-1 each.
Scorers for Laois: T Lawlor 1-5 (0-4f), Martha Kirwan 1-1, A Moore 1-0, Mary Kirwan 0-2f, S Doogue 0-1.
Subs for Cork: Rena Buckley for Annie Walsh (36), G O’Flynn for Sheehan (43), C O’Sullivan for Ní Bhuachalla (49), M Kelly for Kearney (53), A Barrett for Corkery (60).
Subs for Laois: M Dunne for Callinan (h.t.), M McEvoy for Martha Kirwan (44), O Farrell for Hyland (47), S Quigley for Weston (47), A Kehoe for Casey (60+3).
Referee: Eugene O’Hare (Down).
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