Change aplenty but rivalry remains as Cork and Dublin gear up for Croke Park clash

OLD FOES, FIERCE rivals and two of the top few.

Dublin and Cork go at it again in the familiar setting of Croke Park this evening [throw-in 5.15pm, live on TG4], with another mouth-watering battle in store.

As always, these two counties start the season as leading contenders for the big prizes on offer. But there’s another element to the ladies football landscape in 2022 after Meath’s magical win last year — and an extra kick to this clash, given Division 1B pits Dublin, Cork, Meath and Waterford together, with only two teams progressing to the semi-finals.

Not only did the Royals’ historic win end Dublin’s bid for the perfect five-in-a-row, it also broke the Dublin-Cork duopoly which stretches back to 2005. That’s 16 years of the Brendan Martin Cup wintering in the capital or on Leeside; the Rebels enjoying a remarkable reign of terror from ’05 to ’16, only interrupted by the Sky Blues in 2010, before they added four consecutive crowns under the guidance of Mick Bohan thereafter.

Bohan is still in situ as Dublin look to bounce back from their 2021 championship disappointment, while they also have the league title to defend. Last year’s decider win over – you guessed it – Cork was just their second Division 1 title, having first gotten their hands on the silverware in 2018.

Cork, meanwhile, have lifted the title 12 times – first in 2005 and most recently in 2019. While it’s a competition they have appeared to target, more than Dublin anyway, in recent years, it’s hard to measure their approach this season.

Shane Ronayne is the new man at the helm, after himself and now-Waterford men’s football boss Ephie Fitzgerald effectively swapped jobs, bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge to the role.

Ronayne’s reign opened with a two-point defeat to Meath in Navan last Saturday, though he was without his Mourneabbey contingent. The same applies this weekend as most of the 2018 and 2019 All-Ireland club champions and 2021 runners-up recharge the batteries after their recent defeat, though goal-scoring machine Laura Fitzgerald is included on the bench for the trip to HQ.

Shane Ronayne on the line with Mourneabbey.

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

There are two changes to their starting team, as of now, with Roisin Phelan and Libby Coppinger drafted in as they face into a must-win encounter. The absence of the Mourneabbey contingent means Cork are without vital cogs in new captain Máire O’Callaghan, the O’Sullivan sisters, Ciara and Doireann, and top defender Eimear Meaney.

Rising star forward, Niamh Hetherton, meanwhile, comes in for Dublin, who got up and running last weekend with a 4-7 to 1-4 victory in Waterford, while blooding several new players.

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Both panels show a mixture of youth and experience, a blend of familiar and fresh faces, with no big departures announced as of yet — Cork dual star Hannah Looney is currently living in New York, though.

A raft of Dublin retirements were expected, after Bohan lamented “the end of a road for probably half a dozen of that group” in the wake of last year’s All-Ireland final.

But speaking to The42 last week, Carla Rowe indicated that Siobhan McGrath was “the only girl who I think has not returned yet”. That said, that’s not exactly uncommon. The 2019 Footballer of the Year and Thomas Davis stalwart did suffer with injury last year, and it could be a case of giving her time.

There’s none of such for Lyndsey Davey, who has been named in both matchday squads as she opens her 19th campaign, while likewise long-serving Sinéad Aherne is yet to feature after her All-Ireland intermediate winning club campaign with St Sylvester’s.

The same applies for Sinéad Goldrick and Lauren Magee, who are tied up with AFLW commitments in Melbourne, and uncertainty does remain over Niamh McEvoy. 

Several Dublin players have spoken about their hunger and motivation to get back to the top this year, while Erika O’Shea is the Cork face who has fulfilled the most media duties over the past few weeks.

Earlier this month, the 2021 All-Star said: “Shane Roynane is focusing on [getting back to] the All-Ireland final and that is all that is in his head at the moment and we are using the league as experience and hopefully it will be very worthwhile.

“I’m really hoping for the All-Ireland anyway and it’s definitely a new chapter.”

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The next chapter in this storied Cork-Dublin rivalry begins this evening, too, the clash forming part of a double-header with the Dubin-Mayo men’s showdown.

This duel comes as the latest installment of a gripping contest, which has captured the imagination in recent years, and will never dissipate. Their rivalry, and mutual respect, is one like no other in the game, the sides guaranteed to cross swords in the business end of competitions each and every year.

And every time they meet, they serve up a classic, with free-flowing, attacking football guaranteed.

“They’re probably one of our favourite teams to play in terms of style of football, they’ve always been really exciting and really challenging games,” as Dublin star Niamh Collins told DubsTV this week.

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“No matter how much the teams move in terms of new players, it always seems to be a great battle between Dublin and Cork. Great to have it in Croke Park as well, there were times in the past where the only game we got in Croke Park was an All-Ireland final.

“It’s great for new young players to experience playing in that stadium and it’s always exciting, so looking forward to it.”

Division 1 Lidl Ladies National Football League fixtures

Saturday 19 February 19

Division 1B

  • Dublin v Cork; Croke Park, 5.15pm, live on TG4

Sunday February 20:

Division 1A

  • Galway v Mayo; Tuam Stadium, 2pm
  • Westmeath v Donegal; St Loman’s, Mullingar, 2pm

Division 1B

  • Waterford v Meath; Fraher Field, Dungarvan, 2pm

– With the exception of Dublin-Cork, all other weekend fixtures can be viewed by accessing the LGFA’s subscription portal.

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