AMID coughs and splutters last weekend, Emma Farmer togged out against Kerry. She could have sat out, but something tells you this could very well be her year.
It’s her fourth with Cork, and having turned 22 just last month, it comes as a surprise to many. It seems the Aghada woman has been around much longer given her maturity.
In the past she’s had to serve her apprenticeship alongside the likes of Rhona Ní Bhuachalla, Grace Kearney and Valerie Mulcahy, but now she’s Cork’s top scorer in the league with 1-5. Granted the personal tally is a nice start, but two losses – against Mayo and Kerry – signal that things are about to get serious.
The search for a new coach over the festive period means that Ephie Fitzgerald’s new troops have been slow out of the blocks as they try to defend their Division 1 League title. Boggy and soggy pitches too haven’t helped, but key to this intriguing transition has been the continuity of long-time servant, selector Frankie Honohan.
CORK PLAYERS IMPRESSED WITH EPHIE
“It was a small bit different because we didn’t know who was coming in or when we were starting back, but the minute we got back, it was like every other year,” admitted the UCC student.
“Obviously there was the absence of Eamonn (Ryan) but we still had Frankie and Pazzer (O’Leary) training us for the first two weeks, so it was as if Eamonn was still there in way.The drills were the same, and the intensity and precision was the same.
“The hardest part really was training on Astroturf!” she confides with a chuckle.
Pitches have been limited somewhat, with Wednesday’s session taking place in LeisureWorld in Bishopstown, but a fortnight ago, Farmer and her friends were in Whitechurch GAA grounds, greeting their new coach – and, the impression Fitzgerald left was more than good.
Standing on the sideline he watched, and took it all in, but wasn’t afraid to have an input. Last week he took his first session, and Farmer was more than energised with proceedings.
“Ephie was very open with us from the start and said exactly what he wanted and what he expected of us. I really enjoy his sessions. You’re doing so much but you don’t really know how much you’ve done because you’re all enjoying it so much, and that’s great.”
Cork coach Ephie Fitzgerald.
Having ventured from CIT to UCC to complete her Masters in Education, Farmer’s getting serious minutes when it comes to playing O’Connor Cup football in the top flight, and it’s evidently helped her game. A total of 12 Cork players are wearing the Skull and Crossbones this semester – Doireann O’Sullivan, Eimear Scally, Aine Terry O’Sullivan, Rena Buckley, Maire O’Callaghan, Roisín Phelan, Marie Ambrose, Máiréad Corkery, Hannah Looney, Jennifer Barry (opted out of 2016 Cork squad) and Maebh O’Sullivan.
In partnering UCC captain Aine Terry O’Sullivan upfront with Cork, you’d think their college bond would match, but O’Sullivan is in fact a centre-back for Shane Ronayne’s university side, and an impressive one at that.
Last week, the Beara forward captained UCC to victory in their opening O’Connor Cup match against DCU, in a game that they weren’t expected to win. But, victory in the capital saw them shake off a six-year hoo-do.
“It was a battle, a dogfight really,” says Farmer.
“It was only two points apiece at half-time. The wind was howling and it was freezing, and literally we were fighting for every ball. DCU were expected to win it, but we pulled something out of somewhere.
“We’ve Queens next Thursday in Round 2 in Ballykelly, and if we win that we’ll top the group, but I think we have the fight and want to win it.”
CORK LADIES STILL HAVE HUNGER TO SUCCEED
She thinks Cork possess the same fight too.
“You can see we’re starting to come together and we’re starting to get into our stride. I thought we had the game against Kerry last weekend but they pipped us in the end. But you can see the hunger is coming back into us. Our match fitness isn’t the best because we haven’t had game time, or pitches, so we are behind but we’re getting there.
Cork forward Emma Farmer in action against Kerry
“I think the return of the older gang, the likes of Brid Stack, Deirdre O’Reilly and Briege and Rena, helped with that. To see that they still have the same commitment and hunger, it’s great, and we all look up to them. We follow their footsteps and once we see they’re ok, we’re ok.”
But, with back-to-back defeats, does it mean their league title is in doubt?
“It does put the pressure on, but look, we tend to perform well under pressure, don’t we? So every week we’re getting stronger because we’re getting used to Ephie and getting fitter. He knows what he wants and he’s playing new players too which is good, so everyone has a chance and everyone has a fight,” she adds.
From here on out, the fight starts with Tyrone on Sunday, as Monaghan, Galway, Dublin and Armagh crouch in the wings and wait.
* Cork take on Tyrone in the third round of the Lidl National League on Sunday, February 14, in Mallow at 12pm.