Cork women eye title that would gild their already impressive reputation

Statistics indicate these Rebel footballers the most successful team in GAA history

A sporting dynasty is built upon small beginnings. Losing in the same manner you intend upon winning. This is the Cork ladies football team.

And still, they are not lofted on to a plane considered close to their male counterparts.

Eamonn Ryan is 73. Róisín Phelan 19. They are connected by their first love. The huddle is where it is all conveyed.

“Eamonn Ryan is fantastic,” says the young corner back of her manager. “He has an inspirational story for us every single day, without a shadow of a doubt. We all go into a huddle and he tells us something to drive us on.”


Only last year Phelan joined a group of eight women who have amassed a stunning eight All-Ireland medals apiece since 2005. Only once have they stumbled, when Sunday’s opponents Dublin scaled the highest peak in 2010, but statistically speaking it’s undisputed; they are the greatest team in the history of Irish sport.

Certainly the GAA.

The full-back line in the 2005 final was Bríd Stack, Angela Walsh, Rena Buckley, who has decamped to midfield alongside brilliant dual player Briege Corkery (closing on her 14th All-Ireland title). Valerie Mulcahy, Geraldine O'Flynn and Deirdre O'Reilly also abide, with Nollaig Cleary held in reserve.

“We took a few bad beatings early on,” says Ryan. “The players had never won anything but they were always trying to get better. When the young players came in they saw these older players acting very responsibly.

“Almost subliminally they groomed the younger ones to buy into that sort of mindset. So the older players were talented and they were joined by younger players who were talented, whatever talented means, and the two groups gelled. It is happening all over again now.”

Honesty vital Phelan agrees: “The girls are so supportive; they welcome you into the panel

. . . The respect they have for each other and the friendships they make are just unbelievable. That’s why they are still here today; that drive to win for each other . . . they say what has to be said and that’s the end of it. To have a successful team you need honesty.”

The addiction to winning is what ensures Cork’s footballing empire will continue, regardless of Sunday’s result and despite internal barriers.

The achievements, the success, the talent – whatever that is – makes it astounding that the question of inequality rears its head year upon year.

Ryan needs cajoling on this.

“It begs the question: who doesn’t support female teams? I won’t go on.”

We push for more about the fixtures clashes. The county board insisted on playing out club fixtures as this All-Ireland final loomed.

“It keeps on happening,” says Ryan. “I had three training on the Friday week before the final [because of club fixtures]. On the 16th of September 18 were playing football [for their clubs] . . . draw your own conclusions.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent