Being in Croke Park on All Ireland final day in September is a situation the Cork ladies footballers are well used to. This is their eighth final since 2011, having won the title on six occasions throughout that period.
But you won’t find any of the players taking the situation for granted, having experienced the heartbreak of missing out last year. Cork were beaten at the semi-final stage against Mayo who were the eventual runners-up to Dublin in the decider. Goalkeeper for the Rebel county, Martina O’Brien is just happy to be back in Croke Park once again.
“Thinking back to where we were this time last year, we were sitting at home watching the TV and watching Dublin and Mayo going at it. So it’s great to be back there, definitely. Every year you go out, you’re looking to September to be running out onto that pitch in Croke Park and we’re just so happy to be here again this year.”
“We really took on board the failings of last year in the semi-final. We looked individually as players, and then as a team, at how we can become better and I think we’ve learned a lot and it has helped us to develop into the team that we are today. Hopefully, we’ve ironed out anything that needs to be ironed out from our losses this year.”
For players unfamiliar with the routine of final day, it can be an overwhelming experience. Croke Park itself, can transform into a daunting maze with an atmosphere like no other. The players are shepherded from position to position before ever stepping foot on the grass. Once you cross that white line, the wall of noise hits you and you’re taken through the motions once again.
But for both Dublin and Cork, it is a situation they are used to handling and they have found their coping mechanisms.
“It is an occasion. You have the parade, you have the shaking of hands with the President and all that kind of stuff beforehand and it’s totally different to a match you’ve ever played before but once all that is done, it’s still only a game of football. You usually don’t even recognise that anyone is even there, once you’re focused enough.”
Cork have beaten Dublin in three finals over the past seven years but O’Brien is well aware of the fact that previous results will go out the window once the ball is thrown in. Familiarity won’t be a factor for two teams that have had to evolve their style with the quickening development of the game.
“We know each other so well. We’ve become so accustomed to playing each other now. We probably know a lot of their individuals better than they do and vice versa. But you’re playing a team not individuals. As a panel, they’ve trained together all year and we don’t know what they’re doing behind closed doors and they don’t know what we’re doing. I think it’s going to be a great spectacle, just two teams playing football.”
“All those girls on the Dublin team have won an All Ireland. Last year will stand massively to them. They’ll have to be favourites going into it, being All Ireland champions. They’ve been going so well all year. They had a great League win and then they wrapped up Leinster so they are the in-form team. But you can only do what you can do and we hope that we’ve done enough.”
Throw in for the Ladies Football All-Ireland senior final between Dublin and Cork is at 4pm on Sunday, 16 September at Croke Park. Earlier in the day, Limerick and Louth meet in the junior final at 11.45am while Meath and Tyrone clash in the intermediate final at 1.45pm.