THE 2012 championship format threw up two surprise victories this past weekend.
Dublin recorded a shock victory over Kilkenny after extra-time while Clare hammered Tipperary to ensure that two fresh faces progress to this weekend’s quarter-finals.
Much has been made of the fact that under the new structure a team like Clare, with just one point accumulated from their group phase, has progressed ahead of a team that recorded more victories.
While it appears to have worked against teams that were more successful during the qualification process, it will stand to all concerned in the coming years.
For the past decade there have been the same four to five teams consistently in the mix when it came to the crunch in August.
The championship was stagnating and as a result the ladies football championship, a more competitive affair by comparison, was garnering all the media attention.
Ladies football has thrived in recent years because of an emphasis on exposure in the national media, helped in no small way by a partnership with TG4 which guarantees visibility for the championship throughout the summer.
The camogie association have attempted to redress the balance by teaming up with RTE and negotiating a slot for themselves on the Sunday Game.
Unfortunately the five minutes of exposure between the hurling and football segments cannot compete in terms of exposure with the six-hour marathon of ladies football games being shown on TG4 of a Saturday afternoon.
To compound matters for the camogie association, the junior and intermediate ladies football championships are proving extremely competitive and entertaining which is adding to the feel-good factor associated with the sport.
It naturally helps that it is more feasible, in terms of participation, for players to adapt to football by comparison to camogie.
The skill-set required by players to play camogie at a high level is a stumbling block for counties with a small population of players, it is a time-consuming business and there are no shortcuts.
The new format is allowing the weaker counties a minimum of four championship games in the course of the summer to blood players at the highest level.
This gives these players an opportunity to grade themselves against the top teams, Wexford, Galway, and Cork.
While Dublin, Clare and Offaly may have been going in to this championship with rose-tinted glasses, they will know exactly what to expect from next year’s championship and can train accordingly, if they have the stamina for it.
Increasing competition for the top teams will keep players of the calibre of Breige Corkery, Gemma O’Connor and Jenny O’Leary in the game for longer.
Facing into championship for the 10th year in-a-row with the same faces staring back at you isn’t what these players have signed up for.
The Cork County Board are extremely lucky that these players have committed the best part of a decade to maintain Cork’s reputation as one of the leading lights in the sport, the 2012 national league title picked up at the hands of All-Ireland champions Wexford a sign that Cork still have the stomach for the cut and thrust of the championship.
The championship format has allowed Cork manager Paudie Murray an opportunity to experiment and although the results have fluctuated, Cork are just one game away from an All-Ireland semi-final.
Wexford and Galway await the winners of this weekend’s quarter-finals, Cork pitted against Clare and Dublin taking on Offaly in the other quarter-final.
At this point in the game, Cork’s best 15 is still uncertain, its positional composure as opposed to it’s personnel.
The full-back line with Rena Buckley fit is as solid a unit as any, the return of Joanne O’Callaghan to the fold tightening things up where Cork were exposed against Wexford in 2011.
The half-back line is an issue however and sacrificing the best midfielder in the country to fill the centre-back role is not ideal.
O’Connor is an out and out midfielder and stifling the Barr’s player by shackling her with the responsibility of holding that position is cutting down Cork’s attacking options.
Equally removing All Star Anna Geary from the half-back line has weakened Cork on the flanks but the fact that Cork are without a centre-forward and Geary did the business against Wexford’s Mary Lacey in the league final, it is unlikely that she will be moved back to the role for which she picked up a player of the match award in the 2006 All-Ireland final.
If O’Connor and Geary are to stay in their respective positions then it is imperative that Orla Cotter and Corkery are restored to midfield, the pair formed a winning partnership in Cork’s 2009 All-Ireland final victory.
Corkery has been tried and tested in a number of positions in this campaign but midfield is where Corkery belongs, her ability to read breaking ball instrumental in Cork’s success in recent years.
Jenny O’Leary, tried at midfield against Tipperary, is not a danger there and has to be within striking distance of goal for Cork to reap the benefit of her lightening pace.
Douglas have injected life in to the attack with the inclusion of Julia White, Catriona Mackey and Irish soccer international Claire Shine but covetous play has made Cork wasteful in recent games and the attack will have to develop a team ethos if they are to defeat the remaining teams in the championship.
Poor decision-making, a failure to pass the ball to a player in a better position and hitting wides on the near side have been a feature of the games in the group phase and will have to be stamped out.
Wexford full-back Catherine O’Loughlin has been key to their All-Ireland victories since 2007 and Cork will have to look seriously at the full-forward slot if they have aspirations of climbing the steps in September.
Former captain Amanda O’Regan is currently filling in for Rena Buckley at full-back but may be an option when Buckley returns.
O’Regan is in the best shape of her sporting career and is physically on par with O’Loughlin who is near six foot.
O’Regan has a great hand, neat first touch and the benefit of having played with the aforementioned Douglas trio for the last number of years at club level.
O’Regan is worth a look provided Cork jump the hurdle being provided by Clare on Saturday.