VALERIE MULCAHY: Maturing Dublin dictated the terms of engagement

Cork’s perfect All-Ireland final record is no more. It was inevitable that defeat would eventually darken our door some September Sunday - you were just hoping it wouldn’t be yesterday, writes Valerie Mulcahy

VALERIE MULCAHY: Maturing Dublin dictated the terms of engagement

Cork’s perfect All-Ireland final record is no more. It was inevitable that defeat would eventually darken our door some September Sunday - you were just hoping it wouldn’t be yesterday, writes Valerie Mulcahy

Yes, Dublin were the better team. Yes, Cork emptied the tank. But parking the immense effort which Ephie Fitzgerald’s players put in, Cork will still look back on this game with a certain degree of frustration. There’ll be a few what-ifs.

Cork’s struggles in attack are clearly highlighted in the breakdown of scorers. Only four names - Orla Finn and Ciara, Doireann, and Áine O’Sullivan - were on the scoresheet at the end of the hour. That only two of those - Áine and Ciara O’Sullivan - found the target from play gives a fair indication of the pressure which Dublin applied.

A return of 1-3 from play won’t win you an All-Ireland.

Even though Eimear Scally won a number of frees and was desperately unlucky not to nab a second-half goal, she wasn’t among the scorers. How rare that is.

Saoirse Noonan, as expected, was sprung from the bench at half-time, but not alone did she not add to her 6-11 tally which she brought into the decider, she didn’t touch the ball for the first 20 minutes she was on the field.

Scally and Noonan were the players closest to the Dublin goal in the second period, but they weren’t fed often enough. Cork were determined to work the ball through the hand. Kicking direct ball in, obviously, wasn’t part of the game-plan.

There were a fair few times when I found myself urging the Cork players to put boot to ball so as to bring Scally, Noonan and Orla Finn more into proceedings. Alas, they continued to carry possession.

The lack of width to the Cork attack was noticeable, particularly when contrasted with Dublin’s fluidity. Too often Cork carried into the tackle. This was playing right into Dublin’s hands. And then, on the odd occasion when the blue screen could have been broken, they laboured.

For all of that, Áine O’Sullivan had the game of her life. As for the O’Sullivan sisters, time and again we saw them deep in their own defence. Doireann, at one stage, blocked a Lyndsey Davey goal effort. Their tackling and tracking back was top-notch.

Scores came easier to Dublin, highlighted by the 2-7 which they engineered from play. Their movement was slick and there were one or two passages of play, where had a score come at the end of it, we’d be raving about it for weeks. What we’ll all be talking about for a while to come was the 50,000 who flocked through the turnstiles. Phenomenal.

Carla Rowe’s second goal 11 minutes from the end was the crucial score. To be fair to Cork, every time Dublin found the net, they went down the field and registered the next score. Rowe’s green flag, though, came too late on for them to mount a recovery.

This Dublin team have been together for a number of years now and it’s very evident how mature a side they have become. Their game-management in the last couple of minutes was spot on. They’re incredibly comfortable with their style of play.

Nicole Owens, Niamh McEvoy and Noelle Healy have been three of their outstanding performers all year, yet these were the three players who were substituted. That’s a credit to Cork’s rearguard effort, but crucial to Dublin’s triumph was how other players took on responsibility and were so willing to lead. Siobhán McGrath and Lauren Magee got through a ton of work. Rowe bagged two goals. Goldie (Sinéad Goldrick) had the confidence to get up the field and kick a late point.

When we had their number in a couple of finals, they were without width and doing as Cork did yesterday.

They’ve learned. And Cork will learn from this.

I retired only three years ago and yet, there were six players on this Cork team who I didn’t play with. This is a young team who are only starting out on their journey. They’ll be all the better for yesterday’s experience.

Maire O’Callaghan, who’s 23, was playing in her first All-Ireland final. The Mourneabbey defender performed so well, as did Roisin Phelan.

Emma Spillane, Eimear Meaney and Melissa Duggan are 19, 21 and 22 respectively. They’re hurting now, no question, but will return stronger. Having been involved with the Cork minors, there’s more talent coming up.

Is this the beginning of a sustained period of Dublin dominance? I’m not sure.

What I’m far more certain of is these two teams will be at the head of affairs for a while. Their 2019 clash will be worth waiting for.

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