The drama came late in Croke Park yesterday, the old promise issued by B-movie producers coming back into vogue at the very end of this camogie All-Ireland senior camogie final.
As in, we’ll sell you the seat but you’ll only use the edge of it.
Kilkenny and Cork punched themselves to a standstill in front of 20,438, but the Rebels found a winner from somewhere six minutes into injury time, thus earning captain Rena Buckley an unbelievable 18th All-Ireland senior medal between camogie and ladies football.
The game had developed into a grapple for supremacy in those closing stages, with Kilkenny’s speed along the wings looking a likely route to a winner, but Cork produced a monster equaliser from Gemma O’Connor on 60 minutes to give her side a chance.
The St Finbarr’s totem, an injury doubt until just before throw-in and clearly minding herself, golfed over a superb point from 65 metres, paving the way for substitute Julia White’s winner.
Substitute White flashed over Cork’s tenth point with an hour and six minutes on the clock, somehow finding a tiny air-bubble of space in the Kilkenny rearguard to get her shot off.
It was a racing finish to a game that never rose above a gentle gallop in the first half, certainly, but before the ball was even thrown in all eyes in Croke Park were trained on the participants lining up along the red carpet.
There can hardly have been a more eagerly-anticipated series of handshakes since John Terry and Wayne Bridge lined up opposite each other in the Premier League, though for quite different reasons.
Last year the pre-game unpleasantries led to an outburst of pushing and shoving between Cork and Kilkenny players as they lined up to shake hands ahead of throw-in. ‘Heated’ might be an exaggerated description of that scene - ‘lukewarmed’ would be more exact - but it was an exchange at odds with the presumed object of the exercise.
Since then relations haven’t exactly thawed, to mix one’s temperature-related metaphors. After this year’s league final, for instance, Cork decided to warm down (again with the Fahrenheit) as Kilkenny captain Meighan Farrell was accepting the trophy, which didn’t please Kilkenny boss Ann Downey one bit.
In the run-up to yesterday’s game Cork manager Paudie Murray took a swipe at Kilkenny’s tactics, and Downey returned the volley. Hence the keen interest in the sides lining up ahead of the throw-in. What happened?
Nothing. Onto the proceedings, then.
After last weekend’s All-Ireland hurling final there was some talk about Galway adopting an inverted T-formation to flummox Waterford, and Cork were lined up along the spine of the field at the throw-in. Despite the narrative about Kilkenny playing ten behind the ball which surfaced recently, the southeastern side were relatively traditional in their alignment early on.
Once the game settled Cork were sharp, with two early points, and screened their half-back line well; Kilkenny struggled to make inroads to the extent that Cork ‘keeper Aoife Murray was able to roam 40 metres from her own goal and clear the ball unchallenged at one stage in the opening ten minutes. It took ten minutes for the black and amber to raise a flag, and that through a long-distance free from Denise Gaule.
By the end of the first quarter Cork led 0-5 to 0-1 and could also point to a couple of poor wides to illustrate their dominance. Gemma O’Connor was contributing hugely with calm distribution despite that injury, while Aisling Thompson was covering every blade of grass in the stadium and putting in some serious blocks.
The two of them were central to Cork’s success in that first half particularly, creating an impermeable barrier to Kilkenny progress in the middle of the field, but the scoreboard operator didn’t have much to do in that second quarter, by which I mean nothing at all. Though Cork were dominant, at half-time they only had three points to spare, 0-5 to 0-2.
It was an opening thirty minutes that hardly needed Justin Bieber over the PA at half-time asking everyone to go slower (Despacito, mi amigo), but the game livened up considerably on the resumption.
Within five minutes Kilkenny had cut Cork’s lead to one as they bossed the game early, their energy and focus far better than in the first half. Captain Farrell - last seen in Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey In The Jar? - led the way in the middle of the field and tied the game up on 37 minutes, Gaule giving them the lead a minute later. Orla Cotter levelled and it was game on.
Kilkenny were sharper on the breaks in the second half - witness Julie Ann Malone’s equaliser on 43 minutes - but the game was a live issue entering the final ten minutes, 0-8 apiece. The champions had spare bodies at the back at that point, which seemed a risky strategy until a terrific Miriam Walsh point from the wing edged them one ahead with five minutes to go.
Credit O’Connor for that massive equaliser and White for the winner. Meaning that Cork full-back Buckley becomes the only person in the history of the GAA to captain All-Ireland-winning senior teams in two different codes; which in turn means that her 18th All-Ireland senior medal may not be the most notable aspect of yesterday’s game.
What next for the Inniscarra woman? Taking over as Garda Commissioner?
Kilkenny manager Downey was gracious at the final whistle: “It wasn’t meant to be. We probably didn’t turn up in the first 20 minutes, whether it was nerves or what I don’t know, but in fairness, the girls died with their boots on in the second half.
“They did everything right, pegged back the three points we were down, took the lead..and on the 60th minute it was a draw and we went a point ahead. But you’d have to put your hand up and say Cork wanted it more on the day. Gemma’s point to equalise and Julia’s point to win it, they were two great scores and you have to say the best team always wins.”
Meanwhile, the history woman was shrugging off the attention. Asked about that 18th medal, Buckley said: “It’s frightening. I don’t know how you’d describe it. I don’t hail from a massive GAA house. Obviously, my parents are hugely supportive and they’re involved now. It’s just I really enjoy playing, I get great enjoyment from it. It’s a fantastic thing to be involved in. I’m really, really luck. It’s made my twenties - although I’ve seen the end of them now! It’s been a fantastic period of my life.” Buckley said the other 17 medals “were in a press at home”; the victory speech in Irish?
“I remember when we were young we used always say if you ever got the chance you’d definitely do your spiel as Gaeilge.
“I got my chance so I said I wouldn’t go back on my word.”
Forget Garda Commissioner. Aren’t they looking for someone to challenge Michael D.?
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