Cork stalwart Rena Buckley joked underneath the Hogan Stand yesterday evening that she was afraid to open a single camogie-related text message over the winter such was the mass exodus from their All-Ireland-winning squad.
Departing the scene were multiple All-Ireland winners Jenny O’Leary, Anna Geary, Joanne O’Callaghan, Sara Hayes, Joanne Casey, and Angela Walsh. The exit of six vastly experienced players from Paudie Murray’s set-up heralded a new era for Cork camogie, starting roles handed to relative newcomers Orla Cronin, Hannah Looney, Amy O’Connor, Méabh Cahalane, and Leanne O’Sullivan this spring.
Doubts remained, however, as to whether the new breed could capably fill the gaps left from last year.
By 5pm, Cork had comfortably extended the county’s stay on camogie’s summit, all the sweeter given their climb started from a very low base. Outplayed and out-thought in the league final against Galway, and when the Tribes-women and Wexford inflicted defeat in the round-robin phase of the championship in late June and mid-July, nobody could have foreseen that two months down the line the O’Duffy Cup would be on its way to Leeside for the 26th time.
Indeed, this latest success brings Cork level at the head of camogie’s roll of honour with Dublin. Further history was created by Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley, the dual pair securing their 15th All-Ireland medal — six in camogie and nine in ladies football — bringing them level with Dubliner Kay Mills, who won 15 camogie All-Irelands across three decades from 1942-61.
And while Buckley hardly put a foot wrong at right-half-back, it was Corkery who delivered the game-defining score, making and finishing the sole major of this final on 54 minutes.
Galway full-back Sarah Dervan had thrown a loose pass to centre-back Shauna Healy and when her groundstroke was intercepted by Corkery, the full-forward found herself in the clear 30m from goal. Head down, there was to be no stopping Corkery, Galway goalkeeper Susan Earner unable to keep out her low drive.
The green flag moved Cork 1-10 to 0-8 clear, Galway’s resistance finally broken.
Their defence had been subject to relentless pressure from the Cork forward unit all afternoon long and while they coped admirably in the second half — Heather Cooney’s block on Julie White’s goal drive on 34 minutes a microcosm of their stubborn determination not to bend the knee — it was inevitable that the dam would give.
Thereafter, Cork poured through. Earner had to be on guard to push away an Amy O’Connor shot on 55 minutes, the corner-forward flinging over the rebound.
Niamh McGrath, as she had done throughout, posted the Galway response. It mattered little by this juncture, though. Cork were already out the gap. Captain Ashling Thompson, who was among their most influential players in the first period, and Katriona Mackey rounded out a seven-point win.
“I felt like this is my stepping stone, this is my path to glory, my path to heaven,” said Thompson of her ascent up the steps of the Hogan Stand.
Out on the field sat a devastated Galway team. Their defence, in particular Cooney, Sarah Dervan and Lorraine Ryan, never stopped fire-fighting, but it was further forward where the problems lay. They finished the game with just two scorers and two points from open play, centre-forward McGrath hitting eight of nine white flags.
McGrath was excellent from the placed ball, but afforded far too much freedom to Cork centre-back Gemma O’Connor who was excellent as a defensive anchor. Behind them, Pamela Mackey carried out a superb containment job on Ailish O’Reilly.
At midfield, the winners simply steamrolled Galway. Opting to employ a two-woman full-forward line freed up Orla Cotter as a third midfielder and the rangy St Catherine’s player — finishing with 0-7 beside her name — was central to almost every score they hit.
Five from the stick of Cotter and one a piece from Orla Cronin, Ashling Thompson and Briege Corkery had the reigning champions 0-8 to 0-4 in front by half time. They should have been further clear having been camped in the opposition half for much of the 30 minutes.
The westerners opened the second period brightly, with McGrath hitting three frees to reduce the deficit to the minimum, 0-8 to 0-7. But they couldn’t find an equaliser as Cotter landed Cork’s first score in 19 minutes when hassling Niamh Kilkenny out of possession.
Cotter added her fifth free thereafter and when Corkery’s goal arrived, it was game over.
New Cork, same outcome.
O Cotter 0-7 (0-5 frees); B Corkery (1-1); A Thompson (0-2); K Mackey, A O’Connor, O Cronin (0-1 each).
N McGrath (0-8, 0-7 frees); A Donoghue (0-1).
A Murray; P Mackey, L Treacy, L O’Sullivan; R Buckley, G O’Connor, M Cahalane; O Cotter, A Thompson; J White, O Cronin, K Mackey; H Looney, B Corkery, A O’Connor.
E O’Sullivan for Looney (35 mins), M Walsh for L O’Sullivan (61).
S Earner; T Manton, S Dervan, H Cooney; S Coen, S Healy, L Ryan; N Kilkenny, C McGrath; A Donoghue, N McGrath, F Keely; C Finnerty, M Dunne, A O’Reilly.
J Gill for Finnerty (HT), S Cahalan for Healy (57), R Hennelly for C McGrath (61), M Cooney for Dunne (62).
R Kelly (Kildare).