Mental fortitude. That’s their secret. Or part of it, at least.
Go back to September 2005, a time before Brendan Martin ever resided on Leeside, and, with seven minutes remaining in the All-Ireland semi-final at Portlaoise, Mayo are 1-9 to 0-8 clear of Eamonn Ryan’s side.
This is a Mayo team that has won two of the previous three All-Ireland titles and a Cork team that’s never even made a final. What transpires in the closing seven minutes at O’Moore Park — three Valerie Mulcahy frees, a Caoimhe Creedon point and Juliet Murphy’s winner 29 seconds from time edge the underdogs across the line — is the first display of the mental resilience that took Cork level with Kerry at the head of the ladies football roll of honour last Sunday.
In the 11 years since that day in Laois, the examples of that inner resilience have been plentiful. There was the 2006 decider against Armagh, which finished on the same scoreline as Sunday. Indeed, Cork’s first-half performance at the weekend was strikingly similar to their opening efforts 10-years ago, as Armagh raced 1-3 to 0-1 clear by the 17th minute.
There was the 2009 final, in which Cork, despite being outplayed for the majority of the contest, turned around a two-point deficit in the closing eight minutes to win by one. There were those two epic quarter-finals against Dublin at Birr, in 2011 and 2013, when deficits of six and nine-points were overcome. Let’s not forget the final quarter display in the 2014 final, Dublin again in the opposing corner, when the Rebels outscored their opponents by 2-7 to 0-2 on the run for home.
The gap was never that substantial on Sunday. Not even close; Dublin’s lead was greatest when Sinéad Ahern’s free moved the Jackies 0-5 to 0-3 clear on 33 minutes. It wasn’t the scoreboard that would have concerned Ephie Fitzgerald’s charges or given them reason to doubt whether this journey was nearing an end. It was their performance.
Cork, in the opening half, had been out-Corked. Sinéad Goldrick took care of Ciara O’Sullivan, Noelle Healy kept Vera Foley quiet and even 19-year old Lauren Magee enjoyed the upper hand in her duel with Briege Corkery. Deirdre O’Reilly and Rena Buckley, meanwhile, were both robbed of possession and guilty of poor distribution. Dublin finished the half with four scores, seven wides, and four more efforts which dropped short.
The reigning champions, by way of contrast, finished the half with three scores and one wide.
“Things weren’t going well, but the girls are mentally strong,” says Corkery. “That mental strength comes from within. You can’t teach that to someone or pick that up on the training ground. It has to be within you. Eamonn [Ryan] instilled as much of that as he could over the last 11 years, but it has to come from within.”
Corner-back Róisín Phelan labels it self-belief.
“That is the driving force behind this team,” says the 21-year old. “The way this team works is that you don’t work for yourself, you work for the person next to you. You see how much work they are putting in and the same is expected of you. The sight of Bríd Stack running up the pitch drives you on. Eimear Scally, at one point, produced a diving block on our 20-metre line. People doing absolutely crazy stuff like that is what drives us on.”
Half-forward Orlagh Farmer said: “I don’t know what it is about this team, but we get it right when we need to. It is always within us. It is built into us.”
Rhona Ní Bhuachalla’s 34th-minute goal kick-started the revival and, when Doireann O’Sullivan got the right boot functioning on 49 minutes, an 11th All-Ireland in 12 seasons was never in doubt. The latter touched on the emotional exchanges in dressing-room two at half-time and how there was collective acceptance that the team had neglected its core values.
“Briege, Rena, Bríd, and Ciara spoke at half-time. It just means absolutely everything to them. There was crying and everything. It is an emotional place. It is fine if you are beaten by a better team, but we knew at half-time that we weren’t working for each other, we weren’t supporting each other. That is not what we do.”
Corner-back Marie Ambrose sheds further light on their interval discussion: “It was said that this bunch of players might never again play together.”
Once the celebrations are completed, that is where the conversation will turn. Will Deirdre O’Reilly, 32, be content with her 11 All-Ireland medals? Thirty-year old Annie Walsh won her eighth All-Ireland medal on Sunday. Will she be back? What about the three remaining members of the original crew, Corkery and Stack, both 29, and Rena Buckley, 28?
“You can’t describe their influence, because it is so immense,” says Phelan. “They’ve done it all and yet their drive is still there to keep doing it. Briege and Rena were the two who realised we needed to run the ball more, so they were the ones who started running with it in the second-half. We needed their influence, experience, and their legs. Hopefully, they stay on and we can keep doing what we are doing.”
Added Farmer: “Hopefully, we won’t lose anyone, because Deirdre, Bríd, Briege, and Rena are great inspirations. They are outstanding players and they are so down to earth. They do it purely for the joy.”
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