Hunger makes the difference after all...
Kilkenny return to the roll of honour in senior camogie after an impressive win yesterday over Cork. The 20,037 on hand in Jones’s Road saw a dour contest enlivened by a team in black and amber keen to win a first All-Ireland since 1994. Kilkenny’s determination and appetite made all the difference as opponents Cork eventually were made to look like a team with plenty of miles on the clock.
The trace elements from the previous weekend were discernible yesterday in Croke Park as well. The team which had been there, knocking on the door, and the team which was holding the door closed; hunger versus experience; the new coming after the old.
In contrast with the hurling final, the side keen to pick up medals were in black and amber, but the team with experience were seeking three titles in a row, just like the week before.
True, the auguries weren’t what the incumbent champions would have wished. Cork slipped to Kilkenny in the intermediate curtain-raiser, failing to create the opportunity to carve out a realistic equalising chance late on in that game. Were there implications for the immediate future in that result?
Certainly, Kilkenny were quick out of the blocks, pressing Cork back early on. Denise Gaule’s early point, when she beat two Cork players to win possession and shoot, was a case in point. When the ball squirted loose to Kilkenny captain Michelle Quilty on ten minutes they nearly jumped into a more significant lead, but the corner-forward’s ground stroke trickled the wrong side of the post and wide. Perhaps a Bennettesque finish, such as that seen in Semple Stadium on Saturday night, might have been more profitable.
On the quarter-hour, Kilkenny were a point ahead thanks to the industry of Gaule and Julie-Ann Malone and the strength of their half-back line. In the other corner Cork were struggling to make the ball stick up front and laboured to link the play in the middle third of the field: Kilkenny were far more committed in the tackle and made their opponents work hard every time Cork had the ball. The Leesiders needed captain Aisling Thompson to intervene with a point to keep in sight of Kilkenny on 22 minutes: 0-7 to 0-5.
Soon after that Hannah Looney fielded and bore down on the Kilkenny goal, only to be hauled to the ground. Aoife Murray, up from the Cork goal, went for glory but her penalty was deflected over by Anne Dalton for a point: Kilkenny were well worth their two-point lead at the break, 0-8 to 0-6.
By then the game was nourishing rather than memorable: the major talking point at half-time was the minor contretemps between two players in the Give Respect, Give A Class Of A Push pantomime held before the game (an event which had every journalist present consciously not typing the words ‘handbags’ in their copy).
The second half followed a similar template to the first, with Cork’s pressurised defenders conceding frees, and Denise Gaule making them pay.
Ten minutes into the second half Kilkenny were four up and making the pressure count: then came the game-breaking score. Kilkenny’s high energy game sparked a string of handpasses through the centre of the Cork defence, and the last one found Shelly Farrell on her own inside the Cork cover. Her finish, high into the corner, was emphatic.
Turning into the third quarter, then, Cork were nine points down and had one score in the second half. Kilkenny were hoovering up the breaking balls in the middle of the field, and it was a long, painful 15 minutes for Cork and their supporters.
It became even worse for those in red when centre-back Gemma O’Connor departed on a second yellow card. Yet Kilkenny didn’t raise a flag in the final quarter, and Cork were pressing them hard. The gap was too wide to be bridged by points alone, though, and Kilkenny were in no mood to give their opponents a clear sight of goal. Their freshness and willingness to support each other meant the Leinster side were able to crowd Cork out as the clock ticked towards 60 minutes. When Orla Cotter - one of the few Cork players to impress - slammed home a late, late goal from a free it merely put a respectable gloss on the scoreboard.
Cork boss Paudie Murray was downcast at the final whistle: “I’m disappointed. I’ve never had a problem with losing as long as you play to your potential, and that’s the one thing that disappoints me now.
“I don’t think we showed enough desire, really, even to compete. I thought we were really flat.
“I thought we prepared really well for it, that we had all the boxes ticked. Look, that’s why a three in a row is so difficult to win, I suppose.”
Murray was critical of referee Eamon Cassidy’s handling of the game but acknowledged that Kilkenny were the better team on the day. This was undeniable, with goalscorer Shelly Farrell paying tribute to her teammates and denying that the long gap since their last title was a factor.
“It’s unbelievable, there are no words to describe it,” said Farrell.
“People were talking about it (the gap to 1994). We were just concentrating on what we had to do on the day, on working hard.
“Cork were on our backs the whole time, the goal I got - it was great to get it, but it was the girls who ran in there and passed it to me, it was their goal more than mine.
“It’s unbelievable to have won (the double), it’s about time the girls brought something back to Kilkenny, the lads are doing it long enough.”
With Kilkenny finally getting their hands on the O’Duffy Cup, their intermediates’ victory gained a new significance, particularly in terms of their age profile. Their manager, Ann Downey, certainly suggested yesterday was a rising tide to lift all boats in the county: “It’s huge. I think even for the club scene at home this win will really set the standard again, because when we won our first back in 1974 the clubs just mushroomed around us.
“I think that’ll bring the emphasis back on camogie again in Kilkenny and it was long overdue, to be honest. I’m hoping that it will push the bar higher for the girls and I think we’ll get better from here.
“I said that a long time ago that if they had won before this they’d be there for a while and I think this team will be.”
Omens work both ways, of course. If last Sunday week’s result foreshadowed yesterday’s, what do those outcomes mean for next week’s football All-Ireland, when another team on top for several years come up against significant underdogs?
What does it mean for the following week, when the ladies football final serves up a similar pairing?
Is it all written in the stars already?
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