Goals push Cork out of reach
Rain and wind tried to dampen the spirits at Croke Park for yesterday's Bord na Gaeilge All-Ireland camogie final, but nothing got in the way of Cork's celebrations as they claimed their 19th O'Duffy Cup and second in succession in all too familiar style.
Facing Galway for the third year in a row, with a title each from the previous two, this victory will rubber stamp their authority as the best camogie county around. Four points separated them last year and again this time out. As in the past the advantage of superior fitness and experience told.
Cork built themselves a winning lead and basically held on to survive the best challenges Galway had to offer. Lynn Dunlea was simply outstanding at full forward, drilling over nine points, six from frees, and proving once again how games can be won or lost with dependable free-takers. Added to that was the firepower of Irene O'Keeffe, whose two goals in the first half had Galway constantly playing catch-up afterwards. Unfortunately for them, this meant it wasn't to be their day.
"We always thought that there wouldn't be much more in it than a couple of goals," said corner forward O'Keeffe, who secured exactly that tally for Cork. "They kept coming at us alright but our back line was very strong and that made a big difference in the end. Winning again against Galway adds a little extra buzz because they're probably our greatest rivals at the moment."
It was that set of backs, led by captain Eithne Dunne at full back, that gave Galway the most trouble, confirmed by the Galway full forward Ann Forde's single point. The experienced Galway player is usually a dependable score-maker, but found the walls of defence a little too high on this occasion.
Cork chose to play with the strong wind in the first half, a strategy that paid off well. Collette Nevin had Galway up two points but Dunlea had them even in as many minutes and after that they kept the slightly nervous-looking Galway side under constant pressure. Nevin did her best to keep them in touch, and as Galway also benefited from the Trojan work of Sharon Glynn at midfield, things were reasonably well matched until the Cork goal spree kicked in.
Last years captain, Linda Mellerick, was once again a marvel at midfield and even though she only once made the scoreboard, she created plenty of scores. Considering Mellerick had planned to retire after last season's victory, you just had to wonder where she continues to get her energy and enthusiasm.
She set up O'Keeffe's first goal after 19 minutes and demonstrated her phenomenal pace and acute awareness on a number of occasions that allowed Ursula Troy and Mary O'Connor to add scores from midfield. For one of the older members of the Cork squad, it was a truly inspiring performance.
O'Keeffe's second goal perhaps best illustrated Cork's attitude - hungry and determined. When Sinead O'Callaghan's shot rebounded off the crossbar, O'Keefe was first in to snatch possession and blast home the three points.
The impressive scoring form of Nevin allowed Galway to go into the break four points down, 2-7 to 0-9. It could have been a lot worse, as Dunlea reminded them moments into the second half with her sixth point.
Galway then went through one of the better patches with Aine Hillery, Glynn and Veronica Curtin all stepping up a notch and proving the team were well able to score. Therese Maher's rocket shot took them to within a point for the first time since the early stages. Concern in the Cork camp was made clear when they replaced Troy with Miriam Deasy.
Mellerick responded and Galway, for the moment, were back on the rocks. Time was running out and still that winning score refused to come.
The voluble 10,436 attendance were then treated to a heart-stopping moment when Galway substitute Denise Gilligan was given a heaven-sent chance of snatching the game in the last two minutes. Played clear in front of the Cork goal by a swift Forde pass and with only Cora Keohane to beat, Gilligan, to the relief of some and dismay of others, fired left and wide.
An inconsolable miss made all the worse by Dunlea's final two points in the last seconds that ensured the cup would stay in Cork's hands. Just as the sun made the briefest of appearances at Croke Park, referee John Morrissey blew the final whistle and extended the Cork dominance for another 12 months - at least.
Galway manager Tony Ward tried his best to sum up the mood in the western camp. "It's a double disappointment, I suppose, to lose two All-Irelands back to back," he said. "Still, I don't think anybody can say that there was too much between the teams out there. That extra bit of experience and luck probably saw them through, but we gave them a good match all the same."
Cork: C Kehoane; E Duggan; D Cronin, V Harris, M Finn; U Troy (0-1), M O'Connor (0-1), L Mellerick (0-1); S O'Callaghan, F O'Driscoll (0-1), I O'Keeffe (2-0); L Dunlea (0-9). Sub: M Deasy for Troy (44 mins).
Galway: L Curry; O Broderick; A Broderick, T Laheen, P Nevin; T Maher (0-2), S Glynn (0- 1), A Hillery (0-1); C Nevin (0-8), I Hobbins (0-1), V Curtin (0-1); A Forde (0-1). Sub: D Gilligan for Maher (47 mins).
Referee: J Morrissey.