‘We were extremely devastated’ – Losing out on Cork seven-in-a-row to All-Ireland bid

MOURNEABBEY FORWARD LAURA Fitzgerald says losing their Cork crown in 2020 is a major driving force behind their charge for All-Ireland glory this weekend.

Mourneabbey’s Laura Fitzgerald.

Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

Mourneabbey have been the dominant club in Ladies Football for the best part of a decade, winning six consecutive Munster titles, and back-to-back All-Ireland triumphs in recent years.

But they encountered their first major slip two years ago.

That defeat at the hands of West Cork was a devastating blow to Shane Ronayne’s side, who were seeking a county seven-in-a-row at the time. The sides had tussled in the two previous deciders, and West Cork ensured that they would not be denied a third time.

Despite the result, Mourneabbey were briefly expected to represent Cork in the provincial championship, as West Cork were unable to progress due to their status as a divisional outfit. There were other complications regarding West Cork’s eligibility in the Cork championship, but in any case, the competition ceased at county level due to Covid-19 restrictions that were in place at the time.

Mourneabbey launched their reboot in 2021 with an effort that brought them back to the summit in Cork, after a five-point win over Éire Óg in the county final.

They added the Munster title after getting the better of Tipperary’s Aherlow which effectively marked a provincial seven-in-a-row for the Cork champions.

A crushing victory over Dunboyne followed in the All-Ireland semi-final to send them through to a showdown with Kilkerrin-Clonberne of Galway in the Currentaccount.ie All-Ireland Ladies senior club final this Saturday.

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The clash will also be a repeat of the 2019 All-Ireland final where Mourneabbey defended their title.

“It came crashing down,” Fitzgerald recalls of that 2020 campaign that ended in defeat.

“Not that we thought our reign was over but we were extremely devastated to have lost that match, we didn’t perform particularly well. But that’s the making of a great team. If you don’t perform on the day, that’s it, you can’t have any complaints.

Mourneabbey were All-Ireland champions when the final was last played in 2019.

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

“We were technically supposed to be training for a Munster competition but that didn’t transpire. But definitely it was the ingredient that made us that bit hungrier this year. We came back to training as if we lost all six county titles. We had to seriously make up for the loss that we’d just experienced.

“We had a couple of years won previously, and not that it meant nothing, but we had to redeem ourselves massively in Cork itself. We went out with a purpose this year definitely.

“We let the committees and councils fight that one out, but we can only train and play when we’re told to. West Cork were a serious outfit so we had no issue with them.

“We trained for about two weeks before the competition was called off but I think there was issues with us representing Cork in the Munster championship because we hadn’t won the county final.”

Fitzgerald has been in impeccable form for her club this year, netting 10 goals in their last three games. Four of those came against Dunboyne in the All-Ireland semi-final as part of an emphatic 30-point win.

That result was particularly significant given that it was against a side that contained talented duo Emma Duggan and Vikki Wall who were central to Meath’s incredible All-Ireland triumph.

“I wouldn’t keep count,” Fitzgerald replies modestly when her tally is relayed to her.

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“I am just very lucky to be playing on the pitch and to be scoring goals, finishing off moves which others have started.

“Collectively we have worked on being that more clinical and ruthless as well which is what Shane really pushes for. coming into this stage of the All-Ireland series if the goal is there you just have to take it because it is probably the difference at the end of the game so it is something we have worked on collectively.

“I’m just very fortunate for the position I play in and the players I have around me. To be honest, I’m just one of 15 that’s on the field at any given time.”

Kilkerrin-Clonberne will bring a considerable fight to St Brendan’s Park in Birr this weekend. Galway star sisters Louise and Nicola Ward are key components in their system, along with fellow county teammate Olivia Divilly.

Revenge for the devastation they suffered in the 2019 All-Ireland final must surely be on their mind too. It was Fitzgerald who kicked the decisive score that day with a last-minute free and she has vivid memories of how hard their opponents were to shake off.

“Their fitness levels,” she begins when asked for her memories of that day. “They were a serious outfit, they had 15 very good players on the pitch at all times.

“I know Nicola [Ward] went off injured but you wouldn’t have known with the replacement that came on. They were relentless and the fact that it went down to the last 20 or 30 seconds kind of shows that… the only thing only thing on our performance, I don’t think we were 100% ourselves and we’ve reflected on that.

“We know we weren’t at our very best that day but still fought to win. We’re definitely going to have to bring our A game on Saturday or else it’s going to be game over.”

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