“THAT LOSS LAST year probably stood to us this year more than anything,” Cork goalkeeper Martina O’Brien concedes as she reflects on her side’s absence from the 2017 All-Ireland final.
Mayo had ended their quest for seven in-a-row, a 12th title in 13 years at the semi-final stage and went on to face Dublin in the Croke Park showpiece three weeks later.
O’Brien wasn’t in HQ that day as part of the record-shattering 46,286 attendance. She didn’t even watch the game in real-time because of college — probably a good thing, she adds. So close but yet so far, it’d drive you demented.
“It was tough, to be fair. It would drive you mad that you are not there and you were so close to being there. Look it’s sport. These things happen.”
Maybe there was a small element of staleness. Same old, same old. Complacency could have crept in, she admits. Collectively.
“You can kind of go ‘Oh, I don’t feel like doing my extra training today, maybe I’ll leave it off’. And that snowball effect starts maybe in May and maybe you end up not being in an All-Ireland final then.
“Everyone probably wasn’t in the right headspace last year and Mayo were better than us and they were in the All-Ireland final. That was that. We went away then for the winter and did other things, which was great.
“We came back ready to go.”
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Here they are, gearing up for an All-Ireland final return but this time chasing the Brendan Martin Cup rather than defending it as they face Dublin on Sunday.
There’s plenty of talk away from the set-up that Mick Bohan’s side have something to prove against Cork. After the heartbreak of 2014, 2015 and 2016, they owe them one. That’s what’s being said.
Is that the case? Do they have something to prove against Cork?
“I can’t actually see that coming into their mindset at all,” O’Brien remarks.
“That’s not how they work. They are a great team, they are going into this as All-Ireland champions so they don’t have anything to prove to anyone, least (of all) to Cork.
In action against Galway last year.
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
“We are not coming into this as reigning All-Ireland champions this time so it is a bit harder for us. We have to beat the best if we want to lift that cup. I think they will be focused on themselves this weekend.”
She adds that they did beat the Leesiders in Croke Park in their Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 meeting earlier this year:
“Maybe they got that monkey off their back in February when we played them and which was a great experience for both teams, just to have a run out before anything serious happens and we went hammer and tongs at each other in February.”
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Sunday’s showdown is also a repeat of the 2009 final, but that’s before the Ballinascarthy shot-stopper’s time. She joined the panel in 2013 but didn’t have the struggles that many others did in trying to break into the first team.
Shortly after slotting in, she started in the Munster final.
“It just happened, it was a bit freakish,” she explains.
“Elaine Harte was going away for six weeks and the sub goalie got injured. So they needed someone to be the sub sub goalie so I came in as cover.
“It just happened over those six weeks training and playing together that I happened to start the Munster final and it snowballed from there. A bit of luck, basically
“I never played underage for Cork, I obviously played a lot of club, school, everything. I was always a big follower of ladies football because they were such a good team. Elaine Harte was one of my idols. Still is. You’d always be looking up to her.
“I had a passion to play and I was lucky enough that I got the break.”
She’s always been a goalkeeper. She laughs that she never wanted to play outfield because she was too lazy, but the role has evolved something serious under her watch.
Celebrating reaching the final with Hannah Looney.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
“Definitely,” she agrees. “There’s no more, ‘Ah sure we’ll stick her in goals.’ To be fair if you can kick and catch the ball well, you can be a good keeper. There’s not much shot stopping involved any more. There is in training but I can’t remember the last time I had to make a save in a game.
“But it has evolved and there’s more expected of you as a keeper. The ball is being passed back more. Three years ago if someone passed me the ball back I’d be going, ‘What are you doing, is there something wrong with you!’
“Restarts are such a big thing now and-kick outs so you need to be good at it. It goes on percentages now. I’m sure Dublin are looking at how many kick outs do they win. It’s definitely becoming a more attractive position to play.
“I think it is a more important position. We feel more important anyway.”
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