By Therese O'Callaghan
Galway have defeated Cork twice this season – in the league final and in the round-robin series of the championship – yet the Rebels enter Sunday’s final as reigning champions.
Here are three crucial battles which could decide the destination of the O’Duffy Cup...
Central to both Galway victories over Cork this season was midfielder and captain Niamh Kilkenny. The Pearses girl is such an athlete and will run all day. She wins most of her own battles and gets on to a lot of loose ball as well, thriving when allowed to roam and pick up scores.
Kilkenny reeled off five points from open play in the two matches between the sides this year. She is a tower of strength and has a powerful engine that keeps on going, so whoever gets the job of marking the number eight will have to stick tight.
Everybody knows how unselfish Kilkenny is, and can bring those around her into play. It could well be captain versus captain as Ashling Thompson will start at midfield for Cork, with Julia White likely to accompany her. Whoever gets the job, they will be marking a player with a big presence for Galway.
Gemma O’Connor is one of the Rebel leaders from her best position at centre-back. The St Finbarr’s lady could wear any numbered jersey such is her versatility and reading of the game. But the way she holds that position and powers out of defence is uplifting to those around her. She is having a very solid season and remains a vital cog in Paudie Murray’s team.
O’Connor will be hoping to collect her seventh All-Ireland senior medal on Sunday, which really says everything about the girl.
Niamh McGrath lined out at centre-forward for Galway in the semi-final and, while she could take up any one of the forward roles, the likelihood is that she will feature there again. Niamh landed the winning point from a 45m against Wexford and is their main score-getter especially since the loss of her sister Orlaith to a cruciate injury in the league final.
It is paramount from the westerners’ point of view that McGrath gets a foothold in this area of the field. Bypassing O’Connor will be high on Tony Ward’s agenda. If Galway dominates this section of the D, they could start to trouble Cork’s last line of defence.
These are two big names in camogie.
Lorraine Ryan captained the Maroon and White to glory in 2013 – their second All Ireland senior title. The Killimordaly wing-back is one of the tidiest defenders in the current game. If she fills her customary number seven post and Orla Cotter lines out at right half forward, this would be a fascinating dual.
When Cotter is on top of her game, and she has been for quite some time now, she is the one player capable of pulling Cork over the line. She is one of the longer serving members of the Rebel team and is a handful for any rearguard. Her meticulous return from placed balls is another valuable asset, as is her overall work-rate which has been key in many of their victories to date.
Ryan is an established part of the Galway set-up. When she plays well, it impacts favourably on the rest of her colleagues, in particular Heather Cooney who will be in the corner behind her.
Likewise, the younger girls who have come on to the Cork attack this year look up to Cotter. Her work ethic and link play will help bring them into the action. The likes of Hannah Looney and Orla Cronin are bound to feed off an in-form Cotter.