Wrestling back the TG4 Munster senior title from holders Kerry on Saturday is just what this young Cork team needs to kick-start a new era, insists goalkeeper Martina O’Brien.
The Cork ladies team has undergone a radical makeover in less than 18 months.
From the team that started in the 2016 All-Ireland final win against Dublin to complete the six-in-a-row, only six started last month’s TG4 Munster semi-final win against Tipperary.
O’Brien, defender Shauna Kelly, and Ciara O’Sullivan, Doireann O’Sullivan, Orlagh Farmer and Orla Finn in attack started both games, while Eimear Scally, who lined out against Tipp, was a used sub in the 2016 final.
Gone from the side are stalwarts like Rena Buckley, Briege Corkery, Deirdre O’Reilly, Bríd Stack and Vera Foley.
Now a young generation is trying to write its own history and winning the Munster title at CIT’s grounds in Cork in the 2pm throw-in would be a big boost to their development.
"It’s always important to win Munster, it’s one of the big competitions of the year, second to winning the All-Ireland for us," said O’Brien.
"This year, especially for us, when we have a new panel and a new dynamic going on, it would be great to win something to get started. For the girls to taste success too, it’s always good to drive you on for the rest of the championship.
"Losing last year and not getting into the Munster final has us more hungry to win it this year."
Given the extent of player turnover, it’s not too surprising that Cork’s juggernaut has slowed down and in their past three competitions, they’ve come up short – including not making the 2017 Munster final, losing the 2017 All-Ireland and 2018 Division 1 league semi-finals.
The 2-12 to 1-10 semi-final win over Tipperary was a relief for Ephie Fitzgerald’s team, given last year’s poor Munster campaign when they lost to both Waterford and Kerry.
"Going into the Tipp game we would have been a small bit cautious given what happened last year in Munster," said O'Brien.
"We understand that we weren’t 100% there mentally or physically last year, whereas we are very prepared this time around.
"We were so relieved to get over that first hurdle. Now that we have shaken that off hopefully we can express ourselves more in the Munster final and show more of what we can do."
Next up are defending champions Kerry, a county O’Brien knows better than most as she spent five years living and working in Tralee.
"I know Kerry were relegated in the league and they’ll be disappointed with that because they are a Division 1 team, a really good senior team," she said.
"You can never, ever, ever underestimate Kerry. They dominated from start to finish in their semi-final against Waterford, scoring 2-16.
"To be honest, Kerry have to be favourites going into the final, off the back of their Waterford performance and the fact they are Munster champions. We have it all to do."
There had been whispers initially that the Munster ladies’ final would act as a curtain-raiser to the men’s provincial final between Cork and Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday, but while that was never on the cards, O’Brien is hopeful that it will happen in the near future.
"We knew ourselves that it wasn’t going to be an option because the minor and senior men’s games take place together," the Cork No 1 admitted.
"Definitely though, that is the way forward. It has to be.
"Look at the crowd there for Kerry and Waterford Munster semi-final that was played before the men’s semi-final, I couldn’t believe the numbers that were there. It was fantastic.
"The game has made huge strides, it’s good to watch.
"We’d love to play in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, whether it’s in front of 10 people or 10,000. It wasn’t going to happen this time but hopefully next year or the year after, people can put their heads together and it can become the norm."
By Kieran McCarthy