Wednesday 21 February 2018

Cora Staunton: Rebelettes' bench gives them the edge despite lack of star quality in attack

Sinead Aherne Photo: Sportsfile
Sinead Aherne Photo: Sportsfile

Cora Staunton

I won't lie, I've found the last few weeks difficult, and this past week has been particularly hard. You think you're getting over an All-Ireland semi-final defeat but then the hype levels ramp up ahead of the final and I just want it to be all over now.

Get it done and dusted and let that be a wrap. Maybe then I'll find some closure following Mayo's loss to Dublin.

I won't be in Croke Park tomorrow. I'll watch the game somewhere alright but I couldn't bring myself to go. I'll attend plenty of finals when I retire but I couldn't sit there knowing that it could have been us.

I felt myself getting back to some sense of normality before this week, and then the hurt flows back in again when you see the build-up to tomorrow's final.

That semi-final was a lost opportunity for us and at 34 years of age, and not quite knowing where my career is headed, it might have been my last chance to play in another final.

Still, I'll be playing for my 18th county title with Carnacon next Friday evening. If you'd told me that when I was 14, I'd have called you daft. There are teams in Mayo crying out to win one, never mind 18, but as a player you're always greedy and want more.

That's why I hugely admire Cork team. They're going for an 11th All-Ireland title in 12 years tomorrow, and that's a crazy statistic.

I don't believe they've got anywhere near the credit they've deserved and you have to consider that they've got back to another final without Valerie Mulcahy, who's retired, and Geraldine O'Flynn, who's unfortunately out injured.

They're two players who have helped to drag Cork over the line in previous finals and maybe we'll only find out tomorrow just how important they've been to Cork.

It's a bit like the Dublin men's footballers, who lost Jack McCaffrey and Rory O'Carroll this year. Against other opposition, Dublin were able to absorb those losses but they may have felt for the first time against Mayo last Sunday.

For Cork, this is their biggest test of the year and while Orla Finn is an excellent forward, she's not in Valerie's class, and the Rebelettes don't have that star quality of forward they might need when the pressure comes on.

Dublin have one in Sinéad Aherne but Cork do have the better forward options off the bench to call upon. Rhona Ní Bhuachalla and Eimear Scally both came on and scored goals in the 2014 final, and Scally is an exceptional player.

She was out for most of the year with glandular fever but on her day, she'd be making this Cork team. In my eyes, she's the closest thing they have to Valerie. That might be a big title to hoist on a young girl's shoulders but she's that good.

Libby Coppinger is another useful attacking option to call upon but there's no place in the squad for 19-year-old dual player Hannah Looney and I find that strange.

She knows she was wrong in that incident before the All-Ireland camogie final, it was a moment of madness but she didn't deserve the levels of abuse that came her way on social media.

We all make mistakes but I'm baffled as to why she's not in the 30-player panel for tomorrow's final, bearing in mind that she's featured in each of Cork's five previous championship games this summer, three times as a starter in the Munster campaign.

Still, Cork have forwards who can come on to potentially change the game, whereas Dublin's best subs are more defensively-minded. That could be a factor tomorrow and while many people would love to see a new winner for Ladies Football, I wouldn't bank on it.

The draw is an enticing bet at 9/1 but if I had to put money on it, I'd plump for Cork, narrowly.

If you're expecting a classic, I think you'll be disappointed but it will be an intriguing game nonetheless.

This game will be won in the middle third of the pitch, that 'middle 8', as both teams operate with two players in their respective inside lines.

Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley form an extremely powerful partnership at midfield and Dublin will hope to compete with the youth of Lauren Magee and Molly Lamb.

The introduction of Áine Terry O'Sullivan is a clever move by Cork. I think she's an excellent outlet for the long ball and can expose a vulnerable Dublin full-back line with her sheer physicality, with Orla Finn on hand to pick up any pieces.

That 'little n' large' combination is replicated at the other end of the pitch, where you can expect Niamh McEvoy and Aherne to dovetail.

I'm expecting Bríd Stack to pick up McEvoy, because she has the physical presence to match-up to the Dublin forward. I don't think you'll see 'Stackie' marking Aherne.

Instead, I'm anticipating that Róisín Phelan will pick up Dublin's scorer-in-chief, who collected 2-6 against ourselves and 1-6 in the Donegal quarter-final.

Dublin will obviously want to win this game for themselves but they'd love to do it for their manager Gregory McGonigle.

Greg has lost four previous finals as a manager - two with Monaghan, in 2011 and 2013, and the last two with Dublin.

There's pressure on him to deliver but what Dublin must not do is retreat if they get into a winning position.

Cork overturned big leads on Dublin in 2013 and 2014 but they must not blink if opportunity knocks again.

Irish Independent

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