WE can only speculate on what might have happened if Galway had managed to score from any one of three serious goal chances in the last 20 minutes in Croke Park yesterday.
But, without question, the magnificent point-blank save which outstanding goalkeeper Aoife Murray made in the third minute of injury-time ensured Cork regained the Gala All-Ireland senior camogie championship yesterday in a terrific contest.
Because she also stopped a 37th minute penalty taken by the competition’s leading scorer Jessica Gill, the Cloughduv girl’s contribution merits special recognition. But, in truth, Cork claimed their 23rd title because they had the composure to survive a poor start and the confidence — reflected in the skill of Sile Burns – to get vital goals in the 17th and 21st minute.
Cork looked a little out of sorts early on, when Gill scored half of her total.
But, within a seven-minute period Cork were on level terms and were never to fall behind again.
Rachel Moloney, whose free-taking was on a par with Gill’s accuracy, hit over a 55 yards free and out of the blue, Sile Burns had the ball in the net. And, in the short time between then and the second goal – also from Burns – five minutes later, there were clear signs all over the field of a rapid Cork recovery.
Former captain Gemma O’Connor personified it with her superb play at right half-back, Mary O’Connor came into her own in the centre and captain Catriona Foley, while put under pressure at times by Gill, was very steady at full-back. Significant too was the high work-rate of midfielders Orla Cotter and dual star Briege Corkery. And while the forwards began to see much more of the ball – with Amanda O’Regan doing good work on the right flank – and Rachel Moloney always probing at full-forward — it was a tribute to Galway’s strong play at half-back that they successfully limited their scoring opportunities.
But, for a team contesting the final for the first time in ten years, Galway showed admirable courage in rebuilding their challenge, inspired by the powerful play of left half-back Niamh Kilkenny and the leadership of captain Sinead Cahalan in the centre. And, they took a lot of encouragement from a brave tackle by Sandra Tannion when she denied Gemma O’Connor a definite goal in the 23rd minute.
Even more heartening, they hit back with a goal at an opportune time, just three minutes before the break. Aine Hillary had just moved to left half-forward (in a bid to curb the dominance of O’Connor) when she gained possession from a clearance from Niamh Kilkenny. On the run she hit over an angled shot which deceived the Cork keeper and ended up in the far corner of the net. It saw Cork just a point in front at the break, 2-3 to 1-5.
Cork quickly got a grip on the changeover. They could point to some excellent defending (with Corkery making a massive contribution), allied to the fact that Galway found it so hard to get scores, even after Gill was moved out to right half-forward.
Conversely, while they were unfortunate Gill’s goal attempt from a 37th minute penalty was stopped by Murray (and cleared by the impressive Joanne O’Callaghan), they still maintained a vigorous challenge.
Gill went close to goaling in the 56th minute and shortly after that scare Cork were out of luck themselves when Amanda O’Regan didn’t put away a goal chance and Una O’Donoghue failed to finish better from an opening created by Rachel Moloney.
However, while the outcome remained uncertain all the way to the finish, Cork gained a psychological advantage when Moloney converted a ‘45 (resulting from goalkeeper Susan Earner’s save from O’Donoghue) to give them a four points lead with eight minutes on the clock. Remarkably, there was no further scoring during this period, although Sile Burns came close to getting her hat-trick.
But at the start of four minutes of additional time a Moloney free eased Cork nerves and when Murray made that marvellous save it was all over.
*Eamonn Browne refereed the game firmly and very fairly and overall did a good job.
Scorers: Cork – R. Moloney 0-7 (0-5 frees, 0-1 ‘45); S. Burns 2-0; O. Cotter, B. Corkery and E. O’Sullivan 0-1 each.
Galway: J. Gill0-8 (0-7 frees, 0-1 ‘45); A. Hillary 1-0.
CORK: A. Murray; L. O’Connell, C. Foley (capt.), J. O’Callaghan; G. O’Connor, M. O’Connor, S. Hayes; O. Cotter, B. Corkery; A. O’Regan, U. O’Donoghue, E. O’Sullivan; S. Burns, R. Moloney, E. O’Riordan.
Subs: E. O’Farrell for O’Riordan (second half); R. Buckley for O’Connell (40th minute); L. Dorgan for O’Regan (57th).
GALWAY: S. Earner; T. Manton, A. Kelly, S. Tannion; A.M. Hayes, S. Cahalan (capt.), N. Kilkenny; A. Hillary, S. Noone; B. Kerins, J. Gill, O. Kilkenny.
Subs: L. Cavanagh for Dunne (second half); C. Cormican for Noone (48th minute); D. Burke for Kerins (58th).