Here’s the scenario that you didn’t want to see if you were a Galway camogie fan yesterday in Croke Park.
Your team is trailing Cork by just a couple of points but defending well, the game is there to be won with less than ten minutes left, but a stray ball has rolled kindly for an opposition forward. Not just any opposition forward, but Briege Corkery.
Briege Corkery, who has nine All-Ireland ladies football medals and five All-Ireland camogie medals in a drawer back home, snaps up the sliotar and bears down on the Galway ’keeper with intent. There is quite a bit of work to do but with that kind of experience to draw from, Corkery holds the ball before shooting until the last possible second, and the goal is as inevitable as death and taxes. Room will have to be made in that drawer for a sixth All-Ireland camogie medal.
In truth, the game was too dour a battle to go down as a classic for either the 16,610 in attendance or those watching on television, but Cork won’t mind. They had lost twice to Galway already this year, in the league final and the championship, but they brought the O’Duffy Cup back to Leeside because clearly they had learned more than their opponents from those previous encounters.
For instance, their manager Paudie Murray said afterwards that they’d identified Galway’s most dangerous forward, Ailish O’Reilly, and had chosen their best marker, Pamela Mackey, to pick her up. They also had the experience of last year to help them, and, in the case of Corkery and fellow dual star Rena Buckley, the experience of many other years as well.
It was a good day in Croke Park. George Harrison did the business yesterday in Dublin 3 for the supporters, ‘Here Comes The Sun’ coming out of the speakers in the stadium to herald the parting of the clouds. Pardon the departure into meteorology like a bad novelist, but if you were in Jones’s Road up to about ten to four yesterday afternoon, the heavy rain and greasy field would have monopolised your attention too. They didn’t do Waterford and Kildare any favours in the intermediate game, the former adapting to the conditions to win with something to spare, but thankfully the day cleaned itself up a bit before senior throw-in.
As reigning champions, it wasn’t surprising to see Cork settle quickly. They had four points on the scoreboard to Galway’s one after seven minutes, the last of those showing the benefit of experience learned at the sharp end of championships: Centre-back Gemma O’Connor taking a free quickly and locating Orla Cotter, free in the Galway half. Cotter collected, stepped around her marker, and was fouled, rifling over the free herself.
That was a feature of Cork’s play in that first half — the ability to find the free player going through the centre, often centre-forward Orla Cronin, who either scored herself or won a free that Cotter converted. Though the wing-forward from St Catherine’s has a lot of moving parts to her free-taking technique, it works well for her: she went in at the break with 0-5 to her credit.
Galway were off the pace for much of that opening 30 minutes, relying heavily on key forward Niamh McGrath, but McGrath was opposed by one of Cork’s best players — Gemma O’Connor not only organised the red defence expertly but held the centre well. Behind her, Aoife Murray illustrated Cork’s general confidence by taking a difficult ball out of the sun on 24 minutes. At half time, Cork were four ahead and Galway had Sarah Dervan to thank for barring the door to goal a couple of times.
Within six minutes of the restart Galway were just one behind, however, thanks to three fine frees by McGrath, and Cork badly needed Cotter’s score to keep daylight between them. The westerners erred, perhaps, by moving McGrath around the middle third of the field to get her involved; that left Gemma O’Connor unmarked, and the calm number six gave an exhibition of classic centre-back play, fielding and distributing the ball superbly. McGrath showed plenty of promise but it would be a severe understatement to say she lacked support — only when Aoife Donoghue pointed on 52 minutes did another Galway player get on the scoresheet.
At that stage there were two points between the teams, and it looked like the proverbial case of a goal winning it. Two Galway defenders didn’t claim a ball rolling between them in their own half, Corkery swooped, and a few heartbeats later that goal had won it. Though Galway came knocking late on for a goal, Cork looked more likely to raise the green flag again thanks to the space left by Galway backs pushing up.
“We’ve been coming all year,” said Cork boss Murray afterwards. “We knew where we were going, and I’d have been disappointed if we didn’t win today.
“We’d been performing very well in training, we were very focused, and this is a very strong team mentally. We’ve had our knocks in the last few years but they’re very strong mentally, and I felt if, with ten minutes to go, we were within touching distance, I was confident from there on.”
His opposite number was philosophical. Tony Ward acknowledged his Galway team had their spell of supremacy in the second half but pointed out they never led: “You can have all the game plans and everything, but if they don’t work for you on the day, what can you do? It’s all about that hour and it wasn’t our hour.
“What had we? Maybe ten or 15 minutes in the game where we were on top and we didn’t get our noses on front.”
Mission accomplished, then, for the Cork camogie team. Almost inevitably at this time of year, however, thoughts will now turn to the Cork ladies football team, who face Dublin in a fortnight. Will Corkery and Buckley win a staggering 16th All-Ireland senior medal each? Would you bet against it?
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