Catching Cork remains the mission in Ladies’ Championship

A revitalised Mayo have the best chance of knocking Rebelettes of their perch, but nobody is ruling out Dublin, Kerry or Armagh

When Ciara O’Sullivan lifted the Brendan Martin Cup in 2015, it marked the end of one of the more assured All-Ireland wins for Cork. The margin was two points in the end but it was decidedly more measured than the miracle of 2014, when they came back from a 10-point deficit in the last quarter to win it with a Ger O’Flynn point two minutes from time.

And for the second year on the spin, Dublin were the victims of Cork’s ruthless pursuit of glory. They have been the most consistent threat to Cork’s dominance in recent years, but the Rebelettes continue to fight off all-comers. With an incredible 10 All-Ireland titles from 11 attempts, they will start their championship campaign as hot favourites to retain their title.

They head into the summer with two notable absentees, however. Last December, Eamonn Ryan stepped down from his role as manager, to link up with the backroom team of the senior men's side. Ryan, who was first appointed in 2004, is arguably one of the greatest manager in GAA history and his absence could prove detrimental to Cork's chances in 2016.

Potent attackers

In addition, their forward line will be without


Valerie Mulcahy

, one of their most potent attackers of the modern era. She departed the Cork dressing-room after 15 years with 31 senior titles under her belt, including nine Division One NFL titles and 10 Munster championships.

The opening phases of the this year's league suggested that the reigning All-Ireland champions were struggling to overcome those early blows after they suffered defeats to Mayo and Kerry. But under the tutelage of Ephie Fitzgerald, Cork found their rhythm and look to be approachingchampionship at pace now.

When it comes to the Munster championship later this year, they will be keen to exact revenge against Kerry who inflicted a nine-point defeat on them in last year’s final. Cork atoned for that loss when they dumped the Kingdom out at the All-Ireland semi-final stage, but these Rebelettes don’t relinquish trophies without a response.

Following closely behind Cork are their arch-rivals Dublin. The undisputed champions of Leinster are aiming for their fifth consecutive provincial crown this year. But they have their gaze firmly fixed on dethroning Cork. Sinead Aherne, who took some time out last year to travel, and Amy Ring, have returned to the panel and the infusion of some talent from the minor ranks makes Dublin a viable threat once more.

Mayo are the team to watch this year. Since first emerging as All-Ireland winners back in the 1990s, they have consistently maintained their senior status but the strength of their challenge for the Brendan Martin Cup has invariably been weak.

This year, however, they go into the championship as the only team to win all of their Division One group fixtures. Cora Staunton has reaffirmed her commitment to the Mayo shirt for a 22nd year and significant players who were unavailable last year are back.

Two Republic of Ireland soccer internationals, Aileen Gilroy and Sarah Rowe, have rejoined the fold and seasoned Mayo player Claire Egan has come out of retirement to bolster Frank Browne's outfit. Their first outing will be a Connacht final meeting with reigning champions Galway, and with the form they are showing, not only are they poised to reverse their fortunes on the provincial stage, they are likely to progress to their first All-Ireland final appearance since 2007. Incidentally, Browne was also the Mayo boss on that occasion.

Outside of this triumvirate, last year’s All-Ireland semi-finalists Kerry and Armagh, are leading the chase, with Galway also in contention to advance to the latter stages of the championship.

The structure of this year’s championship consists of round robins, qualifiers and straight knockouts with extra-time becoming operable should a game end in a draw. The provincial councils run their own championships with the LGFA taking over once the competition veers into All-Ireland territory.

Following Waterford’s Intermediate All-Ireland win last year, they will join Kerry and Cork in the Munster senior championship, and the top two will battle it out in the final.

Connacht is a straight final between Mayo and Galway, while the four teams in Ulster – Cavan, Armagh, Donegal and Monaghan – are divided into two semi-finals with the winners meeting in the final.

Round robin

Leinster also has four senior entrants in the form of Dublin, Meath, Laois and Westmeath. Their competition, however, is based on a round-robin league format with all teams playing each other to determine a pairing for the final.

Counties who don’t make the provincial final will slot into the qualifiers, with the preliminary round taking place in July. The provincial losers will go into the second round of the qualifiers and the winners go into the quarter-finals. The format then becomes a straight knockout all the way to the final.