The petite O’Duffy Cup glinted onstage as the obligatory blast of ‘We Are the Champions’ was piped through the PA system. The Lord Mayor gamely led the crowd in a rendition of The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee. Bishop Buckley showed off his feminist credentials: ‘Thank God for the women. If you want a job done, ask a woman; if you want someone to talk about it, ask a man.’ It was, in short, a party.
A crowd of several hundred was out to welcome home the All-Ireland camogie champions last Monday after their nail-biting one-point win over Kilkenny. It was a fascinating match even though, as Cork manager Paudie Murray predicted, it was low scoring: 0-10 to 0-9. Both teams’ defensive setups and the swirling wind contributed to this, although there were still marvellous scores, including three angular post-splitters from Player of the Match Orla Cronin.
But if it was a dogged affair for 60 minutes, the six minutes of added time made up for it. First was Gemma O’Connor’s monster of an equaliser, a composed strike from 65 metres to bring Cork back into the frame at the end of normal time. Incredible stuff from a player who wasn’t supposed to start at all. With her knee well strapped up, O’Connor managed her injury brilliantly, quietly ranging around the half-back line and making herself available to teammates under pressure. No better woman to show up in the right place at the right time.
Almost as impressive was Paudie Murray’s poker face when he answered ‘No’ to Marty Morrissey’s point-blank question before the game: ‘Will Gemma O’Connor start?’ Onstage at the homecoming, he was making light of this managerial masterstroke: ‘Father Dan Joe had a word with Gemma at Mass on Sunday morning and she was pronounced fit. They’re calling it the Miracle of Santry.’ Well, that’s one way of going about it.
Cork’s winning point was another fairytale. Former captain Julia White has had a rough two years, rupturing her Achilles last year and then, as she was fighting her way back from injury, breaking a bone in her foot in April. In the last two years, by her own estimate, she’s played 15 minutes of championship camogie. That she would latch onto Orla Cotter’s handpass and somehow find space to strike a point, despite three Kilkenny hurleys converging on her, was thrilling. Her response to how she managed it rang true: “I was just going on instinct.” It was that instinct, along with composure and desire, that were Cork’s hallmarks last weekend.
Kilkenny will be full of regrets; they played their forwards far too deep in the first half, but rallied impressively in the second, with superb points by Meighan and Shelly Farrell contributing to their comeback. Crucially for White’s winning point, they had the opportunity to clear the ball, but chose instead to work it out in short passes, allowing Cork to intercept. They’ll be gutted, and are surely already plotting their 2018 resurgence.
In good news for everyone, attendance at the final was 20,438, a slight increase on last year. Even better, TV viewership was 374,000, an increase of 46,000 on last year. Surely RTÉ’s broadcast of the quarter-finals contributed hugely. People are no longer tuning into a solitary out-of-context final, with no idea how the teams got there or who the players are. Get viewers invested and they will watch.
What to say, finally, about Rena Buckley’s staggering achievement? Let’s break it down. Winner of 18 All-Ireland medals (11 football, seven camogie), the most ever by any individual. The first person to ever captain her county to All-Irelands in both codes. She’s proof that excellence is a habit, and her feat will probably never be equalled. It’s hard to argue with Paudie Murray’s assertion that Rena should be honoured in the traditional GAA way, i.e. have a large piece of infrastructure named after her. The Rena Buckley Interchange, anyone?
RENA’S speech at the homecoming, of course, was filled with modesty, paying tribute to the tightness and drive of the squad. She also remembered the Cork intermediates, who have to do it all again on October 1. A tight, hard-fought game featuring two spectacular goals, it’s a shame the main talking point was the ref. Liz Gallagher blew for full-time just as Meath’s excellent Megan Thynne was winding up to strike what would have been the winning point. A pity, since the allotted 63 minutes were up when the ball went over Cork’s endline; play should never have been allowed to develop after the puckout. Still, at least both sides will get to give it another go. Here’s hoping the replay will be just as close-fought – and that RTÉ will stream it at the very least.