Kilkenny 1-13 Cork 1-12
We’ve been here before with Denise Gaule and Kilkenny.
Just 20 months ago, in an empty Croke Park on a cold December night, she turned a level game against Galway into a three-point Kilkenny win, a 58th minute penalty that she both won and converted doing the trick on that occasion.
This time around she didn’t win the 62nd minute free that handed Kilkenny the opportunity to secure their 15 All-Ireland camogie title but, crucially, she did convert it.
Again, the scores had been tied and again her intervention was decisive as Kilkenny held on for a memorable one-point win.
Ashling Thompson did have an opportunity to level it for Cork late in the 65th minute - curiously, only four minutes of additional time was actually allotted - but it was a difficult chance from distance and she pulled it wide.
Thompson, the 2015 All-Ireland winning skipper, was so distraught that when referee Ray Kelly blew for full-time moments later, she walked straight off the pitch and back to the Cork dressing-room.
The rest of the team remained on the field as Kilkenny celebrated their second title in three seasons and, to her credit, Thompson eventually returned to join them, grabbing the excellent Hannah Looney and Libby Coppinger in a teary clinch. When their brains are less scrambled, all of this hurt will morph into motivation for 2023.
Ultimately Cork may reflect on their slow start as their undoing. They conceded six points before they finally got off the mark and while their first score was a goal, scored by the excellent Fiona Keating, it took 20 minutes to arrive.
Matthew Twomey’s side didn’t score until the 25th minute of the semi-final against Waterford and turned a five-point deficit that day into a five-point win.
They figured it was a nice way to win a semi-final, with plenty in the tank but didn’t expect that they’d do virtually the same thing all over again in the final.
To their credit, they wiped out the deficit with another brilliant fightback, tying things up by half-time and taking the lead early in the second-half.
They were even two clear with 58 minutes on the clock and after losing to Galway in last year’s decider, redemption looked to be close at hand.
Then Kilkenny substitute Sophie Dwyer fired in a goal against the head, following up on Amy Lee’s miscued clearance, and while Katrina Mackey tied it up yet again with a Cork point, somebody was always going to get the opportunity to strike the decisive blow.
It turned out to be Gaule, from a free, and no better player to etch her name in the history books. Just like she did in that pandemic final of 2020.
It goes down as a near perfect season for Kilkenny who were unbeaten in the National League, despite failing to reach the final, and went unbeaten then in the championship, claiming Leinster and All-Ireland honours.
One of the two games they drew all season was against Cork, in the league, pretty much summing up just how little there is between these two teams.
Kilkenny did it all without Collete Dormer and Davina Tobin, both of whom retired before the season began, Meighan Farrell, who was unavailable this year and the Doyle sister
s, Kellyann and Aoife, who suffered cruciate knee ligament injuries in March and May.
They were hit hardest in defence but some subtle tweaks from Dowling, like shifting Grace Walsh to full-back, worked a treat and stabilised their unit. Holding Cork to 1-12 on such a big field was no mean feat. As the game wore on, Walsh came more and more into it and it was the Tullaroan colossus that came thundering out of defence in the closing stages, clearing her lines and finding cousin Miriam Walsh who won the foul off Cork’s Ciara O’Sullivan that presented Gaule with her pot shot at glory.
Earlier in the game, Walsh came from nowhere to deny Cork’s most potent forward Katrina Mackey what looked a sure fire goal. Walsh ended up holding her neck and required treatment while boss Dowling revealed that at half-time she complained of being winded but still proceeded to give a team-talk for the ages.
Miriam Walsh was terrific inside, just about getting the better of Cork full-back Coppinger and tossing over two great scores from the left wing early on. The wonder was that Kilkenny, six points to the good after that glorious start, didn’t kick on.
Cork, desperate to avoid back to back defeats, and implored by coach Davy Fitzgerald from the sideline to run hard at Kilkenny, finally found some traction and began to tot up the scores.
Keating’s initial goal came from nowhere, a piece of individual brilliance as she strode clear and left three players in her wake but the subsequent four points that Cork scored to tie it up at half-time, 1-4 to 0-7, came down to hard graft meeting craft, Keating’s 29th minute point stroked over after winning the ball from a ruck of bodies.
The game went from good to great as it trundled on, the second half opening out into an exciting back and forth. The sides were level six times in the half.
Cork looked to have stuck their noses in front with their two-point lead late on. But they couldn’t hold on and for the second year in a row, they lost an epic.
Gaule was ultimately the game breaker but sub Dwyer’s 58th minute goal for Kilkenny, when she pounced after Cork goalkeeper Lee failed to adequately clear a shot by the influential Katie Nolan, was a massive moment. Suddenly Kilkenny carried the momentum and they made it count.
KILKENNY: A Norris; M Teehan, G Walsh, T Fitzgerald (0-1); N Deely, C Phelan, S Fitzgerald; L Murphy, K Power; D Gaule, M Kenneally (0-1), J Malone; M Walsh (0-3), D Gaule (0-3, one free), K Nolan (0-5, two frees).
Subs: S Dwyer (1-0) for Kenneally (47 mins), A Prendergast for O’Connell (55).
CORK: A Lee; M Murphy, L Coppinger, M Cahalane; L Treacy, C O’Sullivan, L Hayes; H Looney (0-1), A Thompson; K Mackey (0-3), F Keating (1-2), S McCarthy (0-1); C Sigerson, S McCartan, A O’Connor (0-5, five frees).
Subs: E Murphy for McCartan (51 mins), C Healy for Murphy (54), O Cahalane for Sigerson (60+2).
Referee: Ray Kelly (Kildare).