This was special, arguably the most special of the bunch.
Their reaction at the end said it all. Deirdre O’Reilly triumphantly booted the ball into the Davin End upon hearing the hooter which confirmed Cork’s 10th All-Ireland crown in 11 years, turning instantly to be greeted by Valerie Mulcahy.
The corner-forward’s presence in her own full-back line at the death paints a fairly accurate picture of what was required to keep Dublin out .
Eamonn Ryan had followed the play all the way down to the corner flag and endeavoured, fists firmly clinched down by his side, to keep some semblance of composure as he returned to his backroom team celebrating further up the line. Briege Corkery made for the sideline and Geraldine O’Flynn. The tears flowed.
O’Flynn, who had been tasked with marshalling Dublin talliswoman Lyndsey Davey, picked up a knee injury midway through the first half which forced her off the field. On the previous occasion she had departed a championship match injured — the 2010 quarter-final against Tyrone — Cork suffered their one and only championship defeat at the knock-out stages since establishing themselves as the game’s standard-bearers back in 2005. Déjà vu?
Her replacement, Róisín Phelan, would become a leading figure in a colossal second-half defensive effort. Their tackle count and interceptions made had statistician Don Ryan, Eamonn’s son, scrambling for paper. Final debutant Aisling Barrett produced a critical block on Noelle Healy with three minutes remaining, sub Eimear Scally, introduced in the full-forward line, intercepting a Healy hand-pass back on her own 20-metre line in the ensuing play.
As the clock ticked into the final minute and Cork clung to a two-point advantage, Doireann O’Sullivan sacrificed herself when pulling Davey to the ground 40 metres from goal. No player comes before this team and the corner-forward headed to the sin-bin.
Dublin continued to squeeze forward and each of the 14 remaining red jerseys packed inside the 20-metre line when Carla Rowe was handed a close-range free.
The ball was delivered probingly into the Cork square, possession nabbed by Sinéad Goldrick. Cork stood off ever so slightly so as not to concede the penalty. Shot. Blocked. Bríd Stack the hero. Five-in-a-row complete, a 10th All-Ireland medal for Stack, Mulcahy, O’Reilly, Corkery, O’Flynn and Rena Buckley.
Where last year’s decider was a shoot-out, this was an arm wrestle. Cork adapted, and again prevailed.
Level at 0-5 apiece at the interval, the reigning champions made the decisive break in the first seven minutes of the second period. Fouls on sisters Ciara and Doireann O’Sullivan were punished by Mulcahy, adding her first from play in the subsequent action. Carla Rowe’s tame effort at the other end fell into the arms of ‘keeper Martina O’Brien and finished with Doireann O’Sullivan splitting the posts to move Cork 0-9 to 0-5 in front. Instead of pushing for home, though, the winners were let down by a series of wides from Mulcahy and Doireann O’Sullivan.
Dublin, hanging on, steadied themselves, with Davey and Amy Connolly firing over – 0-9 to 0-7 now.
Mulcahy and Rowe traded placed-ball efforts thereafter, Cork again appearing to put one hand on the Brendan Martin Cup when Scally pointed after a superb ball from Corkery. Dublin, however, would not yield.
Abandoning the defensive set-up they had employed in the opening half, in which both Sorcha Furlong and Molly Lamb acted as sweepers, Dublin began to play the expansive football which almost floored Cork 12 month previous. Sarah McCaffrey and Rowe landed two in quick succession to cut the gap to 0-11 to 0-10.
A foul on Aisling Barrett, converted by Mulcahy on 54 minutes, provided Cork with the necessary breathing space to contain their opponents from there to the finish. And through it all, to their credit, they kept their composure, never once panicking.
The defensive wall which Dublin crashed against at the finish was far removed from the opening 30 minutes when it was Cork struggling to break down their opponents’ blanket defence.
Dublin’s plan was to hit Cork on the counter, with Lamb and Healy putting in serious shifts in carrying the ball deep into opposition territory. There they found Niamh McEvoy and Lyndsey Davey and it was the indiscipline of the Cork full-back line in attempting to contain this pair that allowed Rowe kick four first-half frees. Crucially, she missed two more, with Connolly also off target with a free on the Cusack Stand Side.
Mulcahy (0-2 frees), Aine O’Sulivan, Buckley and Ciara O’Sullivan kept the favourites in touch. Sorcha Furlong cleared Mulcahy’s shot off the line on 25 minutes to deny the outstanding goal chance of the afternoon.
It mattered little at the finish, Cork still standing atop the summit of ladies football.
Scorers for Cork:
V Mulcahy (0-7, 0-6 frees); D O’Sullivan (0-2); C O’Sullivan, R Buckley, E Scally (0-1 each).
Scorers for Dublin:
C Rowe (0-6, 0-5 frees); N Owens, N McEvoy, L Davey, S McCaffrey (0-1 each).
M O’Brien; M Ambrose, B Stack, G O’Flynn; V Foley, D O’Reilly, A Barrett; R Buckley, B Corkery; C O’Sullivan, A Connolly, A Walsh; V Mulcahy, A O’Sullivan, D O’Sullivan.
Subs for Cork:
R Phelan for O’Flynn (15 mins, inj), E Scally for A O’Sullivan (38), O Finn for Hutchings (41), R Ní Bhuachalla for A Walsh (48).
C Trant; O Carey, M Ní Scanaill, F Hudson; S Furlong, S Finnegan, S Goldrick; M Lamb, N Healy; C Barrett, A Connolly, H Noonan; L Davey, N McEvoy, C Rowe.
Subs for Dublin:
K Flood for Noonan (HT), N Owens for Barrett (39), N Collins for Hudson (47), S McCaffrey for Connolly (49), N Rickard for Lamb (56).
J Niland (Sligo).
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