Cork ladies have been the benchmark and we want to continue that legacy - Fitzgerald
Published 22/09/2016 | 02:30
Ephie Fitzgerald insists that there are players on his Cork ladies senior football panel "who are as skilful as any fella you'd ever find."
Fitzgerald, who admits that he had a limited focus on the ladies game before replacing ten-time All-Ireland-winning boss Eamonn Ryan last January, has had his eyes opened by the sheer talent at his disposal.
Nemo Rangers stalwart Fitzgerald is preparing for his first direct Croke Park experience since coaching the Limerick men's seniors to an All-Ireland quarter-final appearance against Kerry in 2011.
And he rejected the suggestion that succeeding Ryan in the Cork post was a "poisoned chalice."
Fitzgerald said: "It was totally, absolutely new to me. I would have watched on the television, the big games, the All-Ireland semi-finals and finals and that, but outside of my two girls at home, who play with Nemo at underage, I didn't really have a huge focus on ladies football. But that was refreshing for me as well."
Fitzgerald also disagrees with suggestions that Cork's dominance is having a negative impact.
He said: "People often say about the Cork ladies: 'Is it good for the game that they have been so successful and that?' But I think it has, it's raised the standards. We have girls on our panel who are as skilful as any fella you'd ever find. So I think the Cork ladies have been the benchmark and we'd be hoping that won't stop any time soon. We want to continue this legacy."
Cork plumped for Fitzgerald to step into the shoes vacated by Ryan but the new man was still involved with the Waterford senior men's team when he accepted the role.
For Cork's opening Lidl National League Division 1 fixture at home to Mayo, Fitzgerald was on duty with the Déise before patrolling the touchline for the first time when the Rebelettes faced Kerry in a Round 2 fixture in Brosna.
He reflects: "I can honestly say if I knew three of the girls, it would have been a lot, their names even."
But Fitzgerald was quickly into his stride and despite a sluggish start, Cork gained momentum and retained their League title. They went on to regain the Munster Championship from Kerry and on Sunday, Fitzgerald can mastermind an 11th All-Ireland crown in just 12 seasons.
He added: "I've been told so many times that it's a poisoned chalice but I don't ever accept things like that. What's done is done. All we can do is the best we can on any particular day. In terms of the girls, the transition has been fairly seamless.
"They're a very humble bunch and there's never ever any discussion about what they've won, it's always the next game, the next training session, what are we doing next? It hasn't really been a factor to be honest about it.
"Pressure for me is illness and fellas not being able to pay their mortgage. Football is something we do because we enjoy it. But I do put pressure on myself to get the best out of myself and the best out of whatever group of people I'm involved with.
"From that end, I have to say bringing James Masters in and Mike Carroll, who does our strength and conditioning… they've been fantastic. It's been a team effort. All I can say is we've had a successful year to date - we've won the Munster Championship, we've won the league and we're in an All-Ireland final.
"By any stretch of the imagination, that's not a bad year anyway but these girls have set very high standards.
"There are no guarantees in any situation and there will come a year when Cork won't win the All-Ireland. Hopefully it's not going to be Sunday."
Fitzgerald has also insisted that his dual stars will not suffer any psychological hangover from the recent All-Ireland senior camogie final defeat to Kilkenny. Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley and Hannah Looney all played against the Cats but were back in training with the footballers on the following Wednesday evening.
And Fitzgerald said: "It's very hard to understand the mentality of these girls. They turned up on the Wednesday night - that's over and done with, this is football, it's a different game, get on with it.
"So it's not a problem. Psychologically, it won't have any effect on the girls. If anything, they are probably a little bit more driven now that they didn't win that one."