Rocky road gets Cork up to speed
For the last nine years the Cork ladies football team have dominated the All-Ireland championship, winning seven titles in that time.
But their path to yet another final this afternoon – against Monaghan in a repeat of the 2011 decider – hasn't been smooth sailing for the football superpower. At the start of the season it looked like their dominance was set to end. They got off to a rocky start, losing to Kerry twice in the Munster championship including the provincial final.
"We didn't do ourselves justice earlier in the year," explains Cork captain Anne-Marie Walsh. "Kerry were the better team on the two days but we recovered well and got back on track."
Eamonn Ryan's side certainly did bounce back, although it took a bit longer than expected. Against Armagh in the All-Ireland qualifiers they made tough work of the challenge, emerging victorious by just one point. Dublin provided the opposition for the All-Ireland quarter-final; however, Cork struggled to hit form in the first half and it looked like their season was about to end.
Early in the second half they were nine points down but they showed their character by making a remarkable comeback, scoring 1-10 without reply. Their win set up a semi-final against Kerry who they beat by four points this time.
"The game against Kerry was the first full game where we actually played out of our skins, we all played for each other. I suppose it was the right time to peak," says Walsh.
In June, Cork star Juliet Murphy retired from the game but last month she made a welcome return to the set-up and since then has played a major role in steadying the ship.
"Juliet is a great asset, she is excellent at communicating with all the players and she reads the game very well. They are definitely two huge things for us."
Having Eamonn Ryan in charge is another plus for the Cork ladies. Since he took over as manager in 2004, he has transformed the game in the county and turned the team into an unstoppable force.
"Eamonn is as cool-headed as you will get, he will never let anything slip. He's well experienced in both football and hurling, he's an excellent coach," says Walsh.
"He knows the game inside out, he knows how to improve different players and he keeps that level head going into every game."
But undoubtedly he has fantastic players to work with, like 28-year-old Walsh. They are dedicated sportswomen and even though many of them have several All-Ireland medals, they still want more.
"When you have experienced winning, it keeps you wanting more. If you are a team who loses all the time then it is bound to get into the back of your mind but winning makes you enjoy it more. It makes it more enjoyable and you don't see it as a sacrifice," adds Walsh.
"And we are all motivated because there is a lot of competition for places. There are a good few younger players on the panel and they are pushing for places.
"You want to hang on to your starting spot. Three of the minor team came in this year and there are nine of the under 21s so it is tough enough."
Today Cork take on Monaghan in the All-Ireland final, a team that have been on form all season. They hammered Laois 4-21 to 0-4 in the All-Ireland quarter-final and beat Galway in the semi-final by four points.
"I think Monaghan are favourites coming into the game, they've had such a good year and had some really convincing wins. They are after adding to their management with Séamus McEnaney, they will be well up for it, they will be physical and lively."
Cork: E Harte; AM Walsh, B Stack, D O'Reilly; B Corkery, R Buckley, G O'Flynn; J Murphy, A Walsh; N Cleary, D O'Sullivan, A Walsh; V Mulcahy, R Ní Bhuachalla, C O'Sullivan.
Monaghan: L Martin; G McNally, S Courtney, C Reilly; L McEnaney, E McCarron, A McAnespie; A Casey, Y Connell; T McNally, C Mohan, C Courtney; C McConnell, E McKenna, C McAnespie.
Cork v Monaghan,