'It wasn’t so long ago that the shoe was on the other foot'- Cork legend Bríd Stack previews the TG4 Munster Senior Final

On Sunday evening at 6.30 in Fraher Field Dungarvan, Cork and Waterford meet in the Munster Senior Ladies Football Final. While Cork are going in as overwhelming favourites given their recent twenty four point win over Waterford in their opening Munster clash, Waterford will be hoping to prove that that result was a once off given their good run of form up to now. It wasn’t so long ago that the shoe was on the other foot and it was Waterford who were lording Munster championships.

Back in the early 2000’s Waterford and Kerry were reigning supreme and Cork were at the receiving end of many a whitewash. Waterford Veteran Mary O’Donnell remembers the “good ole days”; like the big Munster derbies played in Fraher Field against a Kerry team that included the talented Geraldine O’Shea, Patrice Dennehy and in the years that followed, the skilful Kacey O’Driscoll. Munster championship was straight knockout at that time, with just the provincial winners advancing. There were fewer games, so much more at stake and a highly competitive edge. O’Donnell recalls the long summers when Waterford happened to be unsuccessful and welcomed the change in championship structure which allowed more games and a chance of “redemption”. In the early 2000’s, the Ballymacarbry club was a force to be reckoned with in Waterford and indeed nationally. O’Donnell was one of three players on the starting Waterford fifteen that wasn’t from the Ballymacarbry club. Hard to imagine twelve players from one club on a county’s starting team these days but such was their dominance.

In 2001, a strong rivalry began between Ballymacarbry of Waterford and Donoughmore of Cork. Juliet Murphy recalls playing Ballymacarbry in Ballincollig in one such club Munster Final. “Aine Wall must have kicked 12 or 13 points for them that day. She was unstoppable at full forward”.  Waterford continued that vein when they met Cork in the Munster championship that year and Murphy recounts all too well how winning habits and strong bonds at club level spilled over into the county set up: “We’d be competitive for twenty minutes but it was near impossible to stick with them for the whole game. They had talent on every line and Micheal Ryan had them drilled to perfection.”  It’s notable that Michael Ryan was manager of both Ballymacarbry and Waterford Ladies at that time. The talent that had secured All Ireland County and Club success in 1998 was ever present.

O’Donnell took a year out from Waterford football in 2001 and on her return in 2002, remembers a “very young but fearless Cork side” in the Munster Final. Cork had a notable amount of underage players lining out on that day, their physicality was no match for Waterford’s seasoned campaigners such as Marion Troy, Annalisa Crotty and Rebecca Hallahan to name but a few. Almost half the Cork Senior team were aged 16 or under, with Beara’s Laura Power the youngest, aged just fourteen. It was women versus girls.

However, in the space of two short years, Cork had developed in more ways than just physically. They had experienced players back in the set-up who now believed, and a progressive management team in place. Large numbers at training and an impressive array of underage talent coming through resulted in a renewed confidence. That year’s (2004) Munster semi -final between Cork and Waterford took place in Dungarvan. Juliet Murphy admits she never enjoyed travelling down to Fraher Field and the bad memories that it held from previous encounters: “It was almost like the scene of an ambush”.  Michael Ryan was still at the helm, his ladies football empire having secured the Brendan Martin cup and Division 1 NFL titles five times each. But 2004 was different. He was wary of the Cork threat and he was right to be. So much so, star forward Mary O Rourke decided to fly home from a J1 in New York to line out in a forward line that also contained future Rugby International, Niamh Briggs. Cork outscored the Deise 1-11 to 0-10 that day, winning for the first time in almost two decades. To beat a team of the calibre of Waterford was monumental.

That year resulted in Murphy’s favourite Munster final memory. Beating Kerry in Pairc UI Rinn when Kerry were overwhelming favourites and securing Cork’s very first Senior Munster title. Cork shouldn’t have been in contention having been well beaten by Kerry in the preliminary stages of the Munster championship, but they were like women possessed and stunned the reigning champions into a 1-9 to 4-13 defeat.

It was Cork’s first ever Senior Munster title in the thirty year history of the sport. Up to that point, Kerry and Waterford dominated the spoils with fourteen and ten titles respectively. Anything is possible on Munster Final day and hunger is a great sauce.

O’Donnell watched this year’s Division 2 league final with pride as she witnessed Waterford turn in a fantastic performance over Kerry to secure Division 1 status for next year. “Now it’s the big task of lasting at the top. There’s definitely a good young team coming up but I feel there is still a major gap between Cork and Waterford at the moment. Currently there’s only 20 clubs in Waterford, there must be triple that in Cork. Straight away there’s a big gulf there”. However, O Donnell has praised the new senior management team: “They seem to be very well liked and the players are responding very well to them. They are allowing the players to express themselves more and given their performance and style of play in the league final, the potential is definitely there.” One thing’s for certain, Waterford will always be competitive. It’s in their tradition, and with players like Michelle Ryan, Maria Delahunty and Aileen Wall, the potential is there to cause an upset.

Murphy too was impressed by Waterford’s direct approach but feels there is a “real bite in the Cork squad this year”. This Cork side is proving to be more and more ruthless upon entering the business end of the year. Case and point is the “number of big day players that are on the fringes trying to stamp their claim on positions”. Cork have more firepower options up front in the form of Saoirse Noonan and Rhona Ni Bhuachalla linking well with sharpshooters Eimear Scally, Orla Finn and Ciara O Sullivan. The positional changes made by Ephie Fitzgerald and his management team have proven to be highly successful, most notably deploying Hannah Looney to a defensive role and appointing Melissa Duggan as a man-marker when required. Fitzgerald has proven he’s not afraid to take risks and as a result, there doesn’t appear to be a sniff of complacency in a team striving the reclaim success.


Bríd Stack, Cork legend and current Learn to Lead Participant

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