Cork collect eighth title after hard-fought win over Monaghan

Eamonn Ryan’s side had to call on all their experience and wit to find a way to win

Cork players celebrate the final whistle after beating Monaghan in the All-Ireland Senior Ladies’ Football final at Croke Park. Photograph: Alan Betson

If there's a better team in Irish sport, you'd back Eamonn Ryan's Cork ladies to haunt them to their dying breath. They picked up their eighth All-Ireland title at Croke Park yesterday not because they were better at football but because they were better at winning. They didn't so much outplay Monaghan as outlive them, finding a single point to spare for a 1-10 to 1-9 victory.

Eight All-Irelands. And this in a county that had never so much as been in a final before they came along in 2004. Ten of them have been on the pitch for all eight and each had their say at various points along the way here. It looks reasonably certain that they’ve played their last game together. If so, what a way to bow out.

From Elaine Harte's terrific save in the first half to deny Cathriona McConnell all the way up to Valerie Mulcahy's 1-4 contribution on a day when she came off a distant second best to her marker Sharon Courtney, they each found a way to be relevant. They admitted afterwards they wouldn't have won a game this tight in their early years together. Only a team that has covered the miles they have could have pulled it off.

'No sacrifice'
"There's no great secret," said the 72-year-old Ryan afterwards. "Everyone asks what the secret is and there is none. All it is is that you have a number of like-minded individuals who do this. I certainly don't consider it a sacrifice. We don't wallow in this self-pity that says we're doing great sacrifice for the good of Cork. We're doing it because we all love the game. We all love being involved. How could it be a sacrifice to be up here today?


“There’s people in hospitals who would love to be here. I know that sounds a bit saccharine but I make no apologies for it. I keep on telling them that it’s no sacrifice and they agree. They love it. They love coming back to do it. . . The only thing it is is payback for the work they’ve put in.”

They needed every bit of it here. This was Monaghan’s third defeat at their hands in the past six finals and never have they come closer. Despite a poor first half from Gregory McGonigle’s side, they still went in at the break just 1-6 to 0-6 behind. When they came out and blitzed Cork after the restart, scoring 1-2 inside the first five minutes, it looked a fair bet that it could be their day.

Especially since Cork’s shooting was betraying them at just the wrong time. They kicked nine second-half wides, as well as twice hitting the woodwork and dropping a world of ball into goalkeeper Linda Martin’s hands.

Experienced heads
Yet when it mattered most, it was their most experienced heads that carried them through. Points from Geraldine O'Flynn, Nollaig Cleary, Juliet Murphy and a final free from Mulcahy saw them home.

“Cork had a poor second half against Armagh, still won,” said McGonigle. “Second half against Dublin, nine points down, still won. It’s a credit to Eamonn and his team – they find a way to win. We would have no qualms with Cork – they’re a team we have utmost respect for. It’s a pity that one of the greatest Monaghan teams has come along when Cork are at their top.

"We were happy to get in just three points down at half-time after Cork playing all the football. We had a terrific second-half, we moved Yvonne Connell and Ellen McCarron to create a bit of space up front. But Cork being Cork, they found a way to win."

They always do. If it’s the end – and Murphy was pretty adamant afterwards that it is for her at least – then they go out like Marciano. Unstoppable. Unbreakable. Unbeatable.

One of the most remarkable teams of our lifetime.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times