Galway’s development since Cathal Murray took charge after the 2018 National League has been incremental and obvious. An increased physicality was already notable last summer and that trend continued through the winter months of gym sessions and planning.
This year, they defeated Kilkenny in the league final at Croke Park before falling a couple of points short in their Championship round-robin encounter. Now they will cross swords with the Black and Ambers once more on the most important day of all, September 8, after a display that combined their natural athleticism with manic intensity and work-rate —not to mention tactical nous — to end Cork’s run at a third title in a row.
The Tribeswomen fell two points behind early on, but a flurry of scores in response to Julia White’s 18th-minute goal gave them an advantage they would never cede, although they were never more than two points clear of the champions.
Niamh Kilkenny, Sarah Dervan, Niamh Hanniffy, and Sarah Healy were just some of Galway’s key contributors. Pamela Mackey excelled in defence for Cork, Hannah Looney made some lightning bursts including in the build-up to White’s goal, but only Amy O’Connor, with four points from play, was a threat up front throughout.
It was only a one-point game in the end, but most observers — including Cork manager Paudie Murray — had little doubt that Galway’s triumph was merited. Certainly, his Maroon counterpart made no attempt to downplay his players’ endeavours.
“It’s a super performance,” said Murray. “To be honest, after beating Waterford, we didn’t think we got enough credit for that performance. We were outstanding in the second half. We talked the last two weeks about bringing that momentum into this match.
The girls were super. We were in a good position at half time. The breeze was strong, but we were happy to go in a point up. The second half was all about work-rate, huge intensity, huge physicality in the tackle and we were just brilliant
“I think Galway wanted it more than us, were probably more physical than us, sharper than us,” was the gracious summation of Paudie Murray in defeat.
“They are a very good team. I’ve been saying that all along. I’ve great time for Galway GAA in general: hurling, football, ladies football, camogie. They’ve always had good teams and every now and then they come with a very good one. Ultimately, they showed more desire than us.”
He had no truck with any suggestions that being serial winners or having a lot of mileage on the clock would be an explanation for that.
“I don’t go in for that stuff, just because we’ve been on the road. You can argue that the game against Waterford did Galway a world of good, and possibly it did. A quarter-final would have been no good to us as we had a load of injuries and we were just getting people back, Katrina Mackey being one in particular, but we don’t have any complaints.
“I think they deserved it more than us. We can’t have any argument going back, we just have to dust ourselves down and get on with it.”
Galway led by 0-10 to 1-6 at half time, but Cork had a strong wind in the second half. It was a battle to the death after the resumption and if one instance summed up the new Galway, it was four forwards converging on Orla Cronin and forcing a free in the final quarter, from which Carrie Dolan pointed to put two between them again.
O’Connor replied and did so again after a fantastic score from Hanniffy, but an equalising chance never came, and Galway were on their way to next month’s decider.
Speculation about the future of some legendary Cork players, as well as their manager — who has revolutionised camogie in terms of physical preparation, the appliance of science and tactical modernity — is inevitable. While understandably making no big statements so soon after such a gut-wrenching reverse, Murray emphasised the bright future ahead for Cork.
“This is my eighth year. I’ve been involved with some great guys in the management set-up, some very professional people,” he said.
“I’ve been involved with some great, great players and been very close to them. My heart goes out to them. We’ll make up our mind where we’re going after this, but there’s good teams coming in Cork, so it’s onwards and upwards.”
C Dolan (0-5, 3fs); N Kilkenny (0-3); A Donohue, C Cormican (0-2 each); N Hanniffy, A O’Reilly (0-1 each).
A O’Connor (0-4); O Cotter (0-3, fs); J White (1-0); O Cronin, K Mackey, L Collins (0-1 each).
Sarah Healy, Shauna Healy, S Dervan, T Kenny, L Ryan, E Helebert, H Cooney, A Donohue, N Kilkenny, A O’Reilly, S Spellman, C Cormican, C Dolan, N Hanniffy, N Coen.
C Finnerty for Coen (48), R Hennelly for Spellman (60+3).
A Murray, L Treacy, P Mackey, L Hayes, H Looney, G O’Connor, C Sigerson, L Coppinger, B Corkery, K Mackey, O Cronin, O Cotter, J White, L Collins, A O’Connor.
N McCarthy for White (53), K Hickey for Corkery (54), L Homan for K Mackey (56).
Liz Dempsey (Kilkenny)