Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald praised his side’s defensive discipline as they kept a dangerous Donegal at arm’s length to set up a hotly anticipated TG4 All-Ireland senior ladies football final against Dublin in three weeks’ time.
Goals from Orla Finn and Saoirse Noonan paved the way for Cork’s victory, while player of the match, Doireann O’Sullivan, landed three crucial long-range scores for her side as they struggled to break through Donegal’s tight defensive screen at times.
The Ulster champions looked to be off the pace in the opening half but the scoring threat of Karen Guthrie kept them in touch at the break, while Geraldine McLaughlin’s four points after the restart meant Maxi Curran’s side were always a threat to their opponents.
But a 1-3 haul off the bench from talented youngster Noonan meant Donegal could not pull closer than three points and the record winners worked their way back into the final after a year’s absence.
We are absolutely thrilled. It was disappointing last year we lost a close semi-final and we were determined this year that we’d go one step further.
“I must compliment our backs because we were under a lot of pressure. People were saying to me that Donegal had a much-vaunted forward line, which they do. But I thought the girls did exceptionally well today when you consider the talent of the likes of Geraldine McLaughlin, Yvonne Bonner and these girls.”
Cork had gotten off to a flying start thanks to points from Eimear Scally and a Finn free, but Donegal hit back as Geraldine McLaughlin and the impressive Guthrie found their range. But palmed Finn’s goal after 18 minutes was a crucial score, and added to a handful of poor first-half wides, Donegal never got back in touch after that.
“I think we probably missed too many scoring opportunities and kicked too many wides and squandered possession inside the 45. I think that will probably be the biggest tale of today,” said Donegal manager Curran.
We were up against a seriously top class outfit in Cork and they’re very experienced. They are laced with quality and we just came up short. “They took their chances and took some wonderful scores and we didn’t.
After trailing 1-6 to 0-5 at half-time, to their credit Donegal came out of their shells in the second period and a fine Katy Herron point and a trademark Geraldine McLaughlin effort had them well in contention by the 37thminute.
But as she has done all season Noonan made a real impact from the bench. She kicked three frees and Doireann O’Sullivan’s point with 11 minutes remaining maintained their advantage before Noonan blasted her sixth goal of the summer to the net with two minutes to go.
Once we kept it open and we worked the channels we were most successful. The two goals were the difference at the end of the day,” said Fitzgerald.
“I won’t say we were comfortable, but I thought all through we were the better team, in the sense that we always had a lead and they never really looks like taking it off us.”
O Finn (1-3, 3 frees), S Noonan (1-3, 3 frees), D O’Sullivan (0-3), E Scally (0-2).
G McLaughlin (0-5, 2f), K Guthrie (0-4, 1f), K Herron, Y Bonner (0-1 each)
M O’Brien; R Phelan, E Meaney, M Duggan; S Kelly, A Hutchings, M O’Callaghan; D O’Sullivan, H Looney; A O’Sullivan, C O’Sullivan (c), E Spillane; L Coppinger, E Scally, O Finn.
O Farmer for Finn (36); S Noonan for A O’Sullivan (36); O Finn for Hutchings (47).
L Gallagher; T Doherty, N McLaughlin, T McCafferty; D Foley, K Keaney, C Hegarty; AM McGlynn, O McCaffrey; K Herron, N Hegarty, SJ McDonald; K Guthrie (c), Y Bonner, G McLaughlin.
A McDonnell for McCafferty (23), E Ward for N Hegarty (43), A Boyle Carr for Keaney (48), N Hegarty for McGlynn (50).
Brendan Rice (Down).