There are three Kilkenny players from Saturday’s victorious semi-final team facing into their eighth All-Ireland camogie decider on December 12.
Colette Dormer, Anne Dalton and Denise Gaule played in their first All-Ireland final back in 2009. It ended in defeat, as did five more of the All-Ireland finals they have featured in.
The trio have their Celtic cross from 2016, but all in all, All-Ireland final day has not been a happy hunting ground for them or their teammates who lined out in the 2013, '14, ‘17, ‘18 and ‘19 losses.
Dormer was a steadying presence at full-back during Saturday’s semi-final win, while further forward, Dalton and Gaule contributed 1-8 of Kilkenny’s 2-10 total. To keep returning to the coalface and to keep driving Kilkenny back up the hill to the concluding afternoon of championship action year after year is testament to their resilience and character.
Dalton, however, was adamant after this latest semi-final victory that past heartache - and there has been plenty of it - is not what fuels them.
“I think the media kind of play into this, ‘oh, ye have lost so many’, but honestly, we only think about 2020,” said the six-time All-Star.
“If we thought about any other year, you are thinking in the past and that is no use to you when you go out on a pitch. For us, it is not about last year, it is not about next year, it is about 2020. If you play any other game bar the one in front of you, you absolutely don’t have a chance. To get to the All-Ireland final is the aim every year. It is great to be back there. But it's no use unless you win. We fell short last year so we just have to push it on, focus solely on 2020.”
Dalton’s 28th minute goal, after fetching a Gaule free, put Kilkenny in front for the first time, 1-6 to 1-5.
The visitors, who had not been properly tested en route to the last four, were almost shell-shocked by Cork’s early intensity and found themselves 1-3 to 0-0 adrift inside eight minutes.
Let off the hook by Cork’s failure to capitalise on further goal opportunities after Gemma O’Connor hit the net, Kilkenny gradually arrived at the pitch of proceedings.
Ahead by 1-8 to 1-7 at the break, Kilkenny moved 2-8 to 1-8 clear when Miriam Walsh struck for their second goal three minutes after the restart. Two Gaule frees is all they’d manage between there and the finish. And yet, this meagre tally proved sufficient to secure the county a fifth consecutive All-Ireland final appearance.
“Twenty-one minutes without scoring is frightening. We won't be winning All-Irelands doing that,” admitted Kilkenny boss Brian Dowling.
“Our backs were tremendous. That Cork team has some unbelievable forwards. The likes of Amy O'Connor and Orla Cronin. We gave Meighan Farrell and Davina Tobin jobs to do, they had to sacrifice their own game, and they were immense.”
Cork’s Katrina Mackey could - and should - have played Gemma O’Connor through for a goal when firing over just before the second water break. But at least Mackey hit the target. Too many of her teammates dropped their efforts either wide or short as Cork dominance came to little. Neither Chloe Sigerson or Orla Cronin had much joy from placed-balls throughout the second period. Cork cut the gap to the minimum, 2-9 to 1-11, on 57 minutes, but couldn't find an equaliser. A 64th minute Gaule free, Kilkenny’s first score in 21 minutes, sealed Cork’s fate. His own team’s wastefulness and referee Owen Elliot’s performance were the two issues exercising Cork manager Paudie Murray afterwards.
“First of all, we had our chances to win it. I thought the referee was very, very inconsistent. We were blown for overcarrying on a number of occasions and you'd like that to apply on the other side as well. I seriously question his display. I am just absolutely frustrated with the standard of refereeing this year and other years. I am in it long enough to know the rules myself. You look for consistency on a day like today, and we certainly got the opposite.”
Murray disagreed with the suggestion that Cork, whose gameplan centres around a short-passing game, should have been more direct.
“I am sick of hearing that. There were an awful lot of people on during the week shouting about it. When we play our short, running game, the first 15 minutes is an example of that, we carved them open. Our biggest problem was we went away from that. Maybe the players listened to the press too much.”