No surprise if Cork triumph
CORK go in search of their eighth All Ireland Senior football title next Sunday in Croke Park when Monaghan will prove to be the last hurdle in a very eventful year for the Rebelettes.
"This year has been a tough year and every game is getting harder. You seem to win one and the next one is another step up," manager Eamon Ryan told The Corkman ahead of the final.
"We always felt this was going to be a hard year at the start of the year a lot of players were unsure about travelling and work and it was hard for us to get a settled squad but we did enough to get to the league semi-final and I think the girls kicked on from there really," he said.
Despite the fact that Ryan is one of the most celebrated managers in the game he is apprehensive about next Sunday's encounter and especially cautious of the opposition.
"I think it's going to be really tight and I'm not just saying that for the sake of saying that. They are very much an up and coming team. They are a good bit younger than us and in many ways there like us seven or eight years ago. They will have huge motivation as we have stopped them a few times in the past. It will be a fierce challenge and our challenge is to rise to that."
Cork have been far from their best this season and Ryan has had to work a lot harder on the side line than in previous years.
Having suffered two losses to neighbours Kerry in the Munster championship, Cork had to travel an unknown route in the qualifiers and nearly came unstuck in the their outing against Armagh when they held on to a point win against the Division 3 outfit.
The quarter-final against Dublin, however, is where the form of the team began to come back. For long periods they were second best to Dublin but with a storming final 16 minutes they held Dublin scoreless and added 1-9 to seal a famous victory and at last the green shoots of recovery were beginning to show.
They were to meet Kerry again in the All-Ireland semi-final and this time they had all the answers for a Kerry side who were only allowed play at Cork's pace as they made it third time lucky. Tremendous personal performances by Deirdre O'Reilly, Geraldine O'Flynn, Breige Corkery and Valerie Mulcahy proved the difference between the two sides.
Meanwhile, Monaghan have had a near flawless year only suffering one defeat in the League to Mayo which was at semi-final level. On the day Cora Staunton scored all 1-10 of her side's total. It has been their only blemish on a season which at times has been the polar opposite to the Rebels.
They made light work in Ulster defeating Donegal and Tyrone to capture a four in-a-row and Laois were given a lesson by the Farney County in the quarter-final. However, a stubborn Galway side did make it difficult for them in the semi-final, but they still had five points to spare at the end.
Monaghan and Cork will not be unknown to each other. Monaghan have already lost two finals to Cork in 2008 and 2011 and probably did enough to deserve to win the 2011 encounter were it not for a costly kick-out that resulted in a Cork goal in a game where only two points separated the sides.
Last season Monaghan gain a small bit of revenge by defeating Cork for the national league title, but when it came to championship time Cork proved too good yet again with a nine point win.
However, Ryan believes that there is no magic wand for All Ireland success at any level.
"I was lucky enough to play in one All Ireland myself and we lost that but it's the hard work that is put in is what makes the difference and we have worked as hard this year as any other year and maybe we have even worked harder at times."
This is the closest final in modern times to call with pundits divided down the middle, the Cork case is made on tradition and past victories, while Monaghan have been around for a while and just never making it over the line.
If Cork display some of the nervy play that they showed against Armagh and Dublin they could well be in for a long afternoon as Monaghan will bring a real pace to the game and have in the past exploited Cork's speed.
However, Cork have really dug deep this season and discovered another layer of character, which they did not have in previous years. The defeats to Kerry may well have been a blessing in disguise as they now head to Croke Park ready for any ambush and come 5pm on Sunday evening it would be no surprise if they will have survived another tough test to collect the Brendan Martin for the eighth time.
Also on Sunday Dromtarriffe's Michael John O'Keefe will take charge of his first every All Ireland final. He has been appointed to take the whistle in the junior decider between Offaly and Wexford.
In the past he has refereed the provincial Intermediate final and was the man in the middle of the highly entertaining Intermediate semi-final between Fermanagh and Tipperary in Semple stadium three weeks ago.