Super-sub Rhona Ní Bhuachalla revels in the role

Cork selector Con O’Sullivan walked over to Rhona Ní Bhuachalla before she made her way out onto the pitch for the second-half.

“Rhona, he said, “a goal will win this”.

The Cork sub had been called down from the Hogan Stand during the interval break and the directive was to take up residence on the edge of the Dublin square. Her introduction came as no surprise. Neither did management’s instruction.

Two years ago, Ní Bhuachalla had been sprung from the bench with Cork 2-10 to 0-6 in arrears and it was her goal at the Hill 16 end that lit the fuse on a pretty remarkable comeback. A year prior, she had been called from the bench in Birr with Cork trailing Dublin 2-12 to 0-9 in the All-Ireland quarter-final. She delivered a green flag on that occasion too.

Having heeded Con’s advice, the 25-year-old set off down towards Hill 16. On 34 minutes, she watched as Ciara O’Sullivan cut in from the Cusack Stand side. Ní Bhuachalla rolled away from her marker, took the pass from O’Sullivan and despite the presence of ’keeper Ciara Trant, drilled a low effort into the Dublin net.

It was Cork’s first score from play since the fifth minute. It also returned the Rebels back in front, a lead they would hold all the way to the finish.

“I wrapped up what Con said to me at half-time and I put it into my head,” said Ní Bhuachalla. “I did what I was told to do. People only see who gets the scores or who puts the ball in the back of the net. People don’t see the girls who do the hard grafting to get you the ball. They do some amount of work. They deserve the credit. Two years ago, Valerie [Mulcahy] took four defenders out of it with one amazing pass. Today, it was Ciara O’Sullivan.”

The Cork captain is standing beside Ní Bhuachalla underneath the long corridor in the Hogan Stand and we’ll come to her in a second. First, though, Ní Bhuachalla has a few final thoughts she’d like to impart before rejoining the celebrations. “Playing with Cork and playing with this group since 2007 has been the best experience of my life. My best friends are here. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without these girls or without the help of Eamonn, Ephie, Frankie [Honohan] and Pat [O’Leary]. I am very privileged to be part of this.”

Ciara O’Sullivan is asked to relive that all important goal. It was she who started the move when taking a short free from Deirdre O’Reilly out around midfield.

“Deirdre should know by now I’m not good under a high ball but she gave me one anyway. Thankfully, Rhona, as always, was running off me. We have been playing together since we’ve been U14 and she’d always be the scorer so I said we’d give her another go.

“Unbelievable from her, again.”

O’Sullivan had been encouraged by Cork’s second-half start even before their impact sub made her usual impact. Rena Buckley might have kicked wide in the opening minute, but at least they were getting forward.

“We had what, one wide and one point from play in the first-half? We obviously weren’t happy with how we played in the first-half, but we were happy to only be a point down.”

In the quarter of an hour that followed the opening goal of this low-scoring final, the six-in-a-row chasing outfit failed to add to their tally. On 49 minutes, Ciara’s younger sister Doireann pounced on a poor Dublin free and landed the score of the game when bisecting the posts with the right boot.

The 21-year-old would land another belter from distance on 52 minutes and then put her side four clear when converting a 45-metre free. Not bad going for a lady who missed most of the championship with a back injury.

“For someone that is only 21, Doireann is more like an old lady with all her knee and back injuries,” said the big sister.

“In fairness to her, she has been kicking like that since she was U12. It is just great to see her do it on the big day. When she was kicking them, I was saying in my head, ‘why is she kicking them from that angle’. When they go over, then, they do look great so I was delighted.

“It was Orla Finn’s call to let Doireann take that last free. It could just as easily gone wide and I know she’ll kill me for saying that. It turned out to be very important.”

Selector James Masters knew from last Wednesday evening Doireann would have a big say at Croker.

“Doireann had a bulging disc and Wednesday was the first time where she was properly able to arch her back when kicking the ball. We did about 20 balls where she was kicking them over and she started to get that oomph back in the air.

“The O’Sullivans are all big-time players. They all are. When the going gets tough, they do get going. You’d nearly be trying to get them to calm down during the warm-up because everything is 100%. The experienced girls, Briege, Rena, Bríd and Deirdre, will say if there is something not up to scratch.”

Briege Corkery is one of the last back into the winner’s enclosure. She’s a popular lass, 29-years young and 17 All-Ireland medals. The same with Buckley. Fair going. “Ephie, Mike, James and Derek brought in a new voice. And fair play to them because it was hard not having Eamonn, Val or Geraldine [O’Flynn] around.

“Bríd, Deirdre, Rena and myself, we made a pact before the Munster final. We were saying there were four hours left this year. That was the Munster final, the All-Ireland quarter, the semi and final. We are down to zero now and thankfully, we have kept a clean slate. Everyone contributed today. Things didn’t go right for us at any stage but we just still kept driving on. It is not about anyone’s personal tally. Nobody wants the praise, they just want to win the match.”

That’s what they have done. Again.


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