NOTHING was as vital to Cork’s retention of their Gala All-Ireland senior camogie title in Croke Park yesterday as the steadiness of their full-back line under pressure and, once more, the absolute dependability of Aoife Murray’s goalkeeping.
Combined with a greater attacking threat that was underlined by excellent free-taking from Rachel Moloney, it meant that a comparatively inexperienced Kilkenny team could never mount a really serious challenge.
Appearing in their first final since 2001 – Cork have been contestants each year, winning five of those deciders – Kilkenny did manage to put up a highly creditable performance.
They were at their most competitive in the first half and led briefly through top scorer Aoife Neary in the 16th minute. However, they hadn’t the overall strength to prevent Cork from assuming a gradual control on the resumption.
Scores were level three times in the game, up to the 18th minute when centre-forward Gemma O’Connor (one of the key contenders for the player-of-the-game award) pointed to cancel out Neary’s score. However, five minutes earlier Neary was denied a goal by the first of three major stops by Aoife Murray, following which the quick reaction of the inside Cork backs stopped Therese Muldowney from getting in a second shot.
During this stage of the game, Cork’s defensive strength was crucial, because it severely limited a Kilkenny attack which over the course of the game was to create more goal chances. Rena Buckley was first to make an impact in the left corner before Catriona Foley began to establish a dominance at full-back that was complemented by dual star Mary O’Connor’s consistency in the centre.
Jenny Duffy was also prominent at times at right-half, Orla Cotter was contributing from the early stages at midfield and former captain Gemma O’Connor was providing important leadership at centre-forward, maintaining a strong physical presence and distributing the ball well.
Kilkenny’s backs, too, coped well when under pressure, getting in some timely tackles and turning over possession at times. Catherine Doherty was very solid at full-back and Elaine Aylward as influential at left-half as she had been in the victory over fancied Galway in the semi-final. And, what was especially notable, team captain Ann Dalton was much more effective at midfield than respected opponent, Briege Corkery, who had to wait until the second quarter before having an involvement.
That began with Cork opening up a three-point gap, with Moloney putting over a 21st minute free, then availing of a misplaced puck-out to score from play and Una O’Donoghue quickly following with another. While it had them 0-8 to 0-5 ahead at the break, Aoife Neary again promised a goal in injury time until the vigilance of the Cork backs prevented her from taking the ball through on the ground.
Just as they had in the semi-final, Cork improved their standard in the second half, doubling their advantage within seven minutes before Kilkenny got what proved to be their first of only two further scores.
With Joanne O’Callaghan steadier at right corner-back, Catriona Foley emphasised the importance of her role by getting in a vital tackle on Michelle Quilty after Murray had batted down a high ball.
Further outfield, Cork’s growing confidence was evident in the amount of possession they won – especially winning a lot of ‘breaking ball’ – and the excellence of their combination play which was to enhance the role of the forwards. Eimear O’Sullivan got in some good work on the right wing, Moloney was also to the forefront after moving out from full-forward and Katriona Mackey also did well after coming on. However, it was Gemma O’Connor who made the most positive contribution at centre-forward.
Kilkenny were awarded a 21-yard free in the 49th minute and Cork had six players on the goal-line and a further two in front. And, it was Briege Corkery (in the ‘first’ line) who stopped Aoife Neary’s powerful low shot.
After that, Aoife Murray did well to stop an angled shot from a line ball before making her best save of the game in diving to deny substitute Marie O’Connor.
That was four minutes from the end of normal time and while a goal would have been a just reward for Kilkenny’s heroic efforts, it would have been too late to stop Cork from winning.
Scorers for Cork: R Moloney 0-7 (0-6 frees); E O’Sullivan 0-3; G O’Connor 0-2; U O’Donoghue, E O’Farrell and K Mackey 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: A Neary 0-5 (0-4 frees, 0-1 ‘45); A Dalton and M Quilty 0-1 each.
CORK: A Murray; J O’Callaghan, C Foley, R Buckley; J Duffy, M O’Connor, S Hayes; B Corkery, O Cotter; E O’Sullivan, G O’Connor, U O’Donoghue; S Burns, R Moloney, E O’Farrell.
Subs: K Mackey for O’Farrell (37th minute); E Dillon for O’Donoghue (47th); A O’Regan (capt.) for Moloney (57th); L O’Connell for O’Callaghan (59th).
KILKENNY: C Ryan; L Fennelly, C Doherty, J Frisby; L Lyng, A Butler, E Aylward; C Dormer, A Dalton (capt); T Muldowney, K Power, E Keane; M Quilty, D Gaule, A Neary.
Subs: A Dunphy for Muldowney (17th minute); D Delaney for Lyng (37 th); M O’Connor for Quilty (50th); K Fennelly for Dormer (57th).
Referee: Una Kearney (Armagh).