You could feel nothing but heartbreak for Monaghan as another final slipped through their fingers in the dying minutes and all the cliches in the world about the spectacle of the game will bring them no consolation.
But we’ve come to expect nothing less from this exceptional group of Cork players. They were always going to battle to the final whistle. At the start of the second half, it looked as though the momentum and glory would finally swing Monaghan’s way but the experience and insatiable hunger told for Cork and they made it across the line by a whisker.
Coming into the game, it was pitched as the battle between two key swing factors; Banty v Juliet. Both parties played their part; In the blue corner, Banty seemed to have brought more belief and ruthlessness to Monaghan than ever before, instilling the same qualities associated with his time over the Farney men. In the red corner, Juliet returned from retirement to Cork midsummer and the subsequent turnaround in the county’s form says it all. She provides reassurance, focus and drive around the middle, qualities absolutely embodied in her classy long-range point towards the end to level the match.
Today though, there were others in the Cork old guard who stood to the fore. I felt Briege Corkery and Ger O’Flynn were the foundation for the Cork success, bursting forward from the half backline on the counter attack, creating the overlaps to open the Monaghan defence. In the first half, Monaghan played a slower fist passing game, which allowed Cork time to set up an impenetrable wall in their defence, the sheer number of red jerseys behind the ball a testament to their immense workrate. I felt Monaghan could have changed things up to get the ball in behind the Cork defence a lot quicker but fortunately for them, Caoimhe Mohan saw the first half out with two exceptional points. Cork did get their fair share of luck in the second half with the injury to Mohan and the sinbinning of Monaghan’s Eileen McKenna — two vital factors in deciding the tie.
One can’t help but marvel at Eamonn Ryan. He is a beloved icon of ladies football, revered and reserved, methodical and measured, poised in quietly applying the Midas touch. His leadership is evident in the team.
Heartbreak for Monaghan then, but also a word of consolation for Kerry. They already beat Cork twice in the Munster championship but lost out to them at the All-Ireland semi final stage — any other year, this could have been Kerry’s All-Ireland. Then again, in any other era, this Monaghan team could have won numerous All-Irelands.
The virtual monopoly Cork have had on the championship in recent years has, to an extent, been damaging to the spectacle of finals day but there was a genuine excitement surrounding this year’s final and so it proved.
I, for one, am delighted to be playing football at present, to share the arena with a squad that will be legends for generations to come. The footballing gods and goddesses weren’t just looking down on Croke Park yesterday, they were also smiling up from the pitch.