By DECLAN ROONEY
A sixth consecutive Cork senior championship is up for grabs today (SATURDAY) for Mourneabbey, but they face one of their biggest challenges in years against West Cork at CIT (5pm).
The defending champions put three All-Ireland final defeats behind them as they earned their first All-Ireland club title with victory over Foxrock-Cabinteely last year, but arguably their toughest test in that run came in the Cork final. The eventual champions needed a replay against West Cork before they took the honours this time last year.
Former Cork player Bríd O’Sullivan lifted the John Hurley Cup on home soil that day before later doing the same with the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup, and she is expecting another huge test against the talented divisional outfit.
“That game last year was definitely the turning point of our season. I think we had been going through the motions in Cork up until that point,” said midfielder O’Sullivan.
“West Cork really put it up to us on that first day in CIT last year and we were lucky to get out of there with the draw in the end. That match and the replay the following week were definitely two of the toughest matches that we played last year, besides the All-Ireland final itself.
“That really set the tone for us going forward and I think it made us realise that we needed to work a little bit harder if we were going to get over the line.”
In their Cork semi-final win over Éire Óg, West Cork had nine current Cork seniors in their starting 15, with the likes of Áine Terry O’Sullivan, Libby Coppinger and Niamh Cotter to the fore. They also have a streak of youthful talent in there too, with the Kiely sisters Daire and Eimear, Emma Spillane and Melissa Duggan in key positions.
The teams met earlier in the championship and West Cork took the win in the middle of an August storm when both sides were without their Cork contingent, but O’Sullivan, who turns 26 next week, hopes that Mourneabbey’s spirit and talent will see them to victory today.
“We played each other at the start of August down in Clonakilty in the Round Robin stages of the championship. It was hard to take anything from it because there was none of the Cork players playing in it.
“It was being played on the main pitch in Clonakilty where there are no floodlights. Strangely for August, all of a sudden it got really dark and rainy and we had to move down to another pitch there to finish the game.
“The sheer number of Cork players that West Cork and ourselves have, the teams on Saturday will be very different to that day.
“For the spectators and any neutrals coming I think that it definitely will be a really good match to watch. If you look at it on paper West Cork have 10 or 11 girls involved with the Cork seniors, we have four involved too.
“Both teams have loads of players involved with Cork minors as well, I think everyone on the pitch will have played for Cork at some stage or another. It should be a great spectacle for ladies football.”
After a handful of hectic footballing years including All-Ireland wins in 2015 and 2016, O’Sullivan decided not to play with Ephie Fitzgerald’s Cork team this year and she concentrated solely on Mourneabbey. She says she remains focused on club duties for now and she’ll assess her county situation at Christmas time.
The highlight of the year was obviously winning the All-Ireland last December, while a team trip to Spain as All-Ireland champions did a lot to rekindle the hunger for 2019.
“After losing so many years there was loads of things on the bucket list if we did win it. Going on a team holiday was definitely one of them. Fair play to our manager Aisling Murphy, she organised the whole thing. All we had to do was pay up and show up at Cork airport on the morning with our passports.
“Most of the girls went and different people that were involved in the club and committee, parents went as well. It was absolutely excellent to just be able to go away for a few days and celebrate it in a way that was fitting, seeing as it took us so many years to get there.
“I wouldn’t even say it’s different this year. It was more of a relief more so than anything. I think it was a massive monkey off our back because we had come so close for so many years.
“If anything it made everyone even more driven than usual to come back. It probably sounds a bit cheesy, but you cannot beat that winning feeling and we know what it’s like to win an All-Ireland and maybe that has made it easier to come back again this year.”