Galway’s development since Cathal Murray took over the reins after the 2018 National League has been incremental and obvious.
An increased physicality was already notable last summer, though that could only have been more a reset of attitude, that would have been supplemented by subsequent winter work.
This year, they got the better of the Cats 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 on September 8th after a display that combined their natural athleticism with manic intensity and workrate, as well as 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 points 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 most resolute of opposition.
Niamh Kilkenny, Sarah Dervan, Niamh Hanniffy and Sarah Healy were just some of Galway’s key contributors, while for Cork, Pamela Mackey excelled in defence, 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.
It was only a one-point game 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 from the girls,” said Cathal 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 forward 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 workrate, huge intensity, huge physicality in the tackle and we were just brilliant, thank God.
“Cork are a super, super team. They were going for three in a row, they were going for five out of six All-Irelands. They were champions for a reason and I think in the second half they battled and showed why they were champions.”
“I think Galway wanted it more than us, were probably more physical than us, sharper than us” was the typically 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.
“I just thought that 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. I don’t see it that way. 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.
“We don’t have any complaints. I think they deserved it more than us. We can’t have any argument going back tonight. 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 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.
Speculation about the future of some legendary Cork players is inevitable, as well as their innovative manager, who has revolutionised Camogie in terms of physical preparation, the appliance of science and tactical modernity
While understandably making no big statements so soon after such a gut-wrenching reverse, Paudie Murray emphasised the bright future ahead Cork Camogie.
“This is my eighth year. I’ve been involved with some great guys in the management set-up, some very professional people. I’ve been involved with some great, great players and been very close to them. My heart goes out to them tonight.
“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.”
To the victor the spoils though and Cathal Murray was quick to place the favourites’ tag on Kilkenny.
“It’s brilliant to beat Cork but our feet are very firmly on the ground now. We’ve nothing won. Kilkenny are the form team of the Championship. They’ve beaten is in ’16 in the Semi-Final, they beat us in ’17 in the group, they beat us twice last year, they beat us again in Athenry this year.
“They’re a super team and we’re up against in the Final but we’re delighted to be there and looking forward to it now.”
SCORERS FOR GALWAY: C Dolan 0-5(3fs); N Kilkenny 0-3; A Donohue, C Cormican 0-2 each; N Hanniffy, A O’Reilly 0-1 each
SCORERS FOR CORK: A O’Connor 0-4; O Cotter 0-3(fs); J White 1-0; O Cronin, K Mackey, L Collins 0-1 each
GALWAY: 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
Subs for Galway: C Finnerty for Coen (48), R Hennelly for Spellman (60+3)
CORK: 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
Subs for Cork: N McCarthy for White (53), K Hickey for Corkery (54), L Homan for K Mackey (56)
REFEREE: Liz Dempsey (Kilkenny)