Sweet revenge for Farney ladies
A strong third-quarter proved pivotal for Monaghan in Parnell Park on Saturday afternoon, as they pulled out all the stops to secure their fourth top-flight title -- their first since 1999.
Having recorded five successive All-Ireland titles back in 2009, Eamon Ryan's Cork were looking to achieve the same feat in terms of league honours, but a determined Monaghan were not to be denied a hard-earned victory.
This was sweet revenge for Monaghan, who narrowly lost out to the Rebelettes in the 2011 All-Ireland decider, and though Cork staged a late fightback with goals from Nollaig Cleary and substitute Valerie Mulcahy, Monaghan manager Gregory McGonigle felt that his side were worthy winners.
"We probably played the better football, but at the same time Cork are Cork. They're not going to give up their title easily," he said.
With wind advantage in the opening period, Monaghan started the game in typically tenacious fashion, and raced into an early lead thanks to scores from Niamh Kindlon (free) and Cathriona McConnell, though their advantage could have been even greater, as McConnell crashed a goal-bound shot off the underside of the crossbar six minutes in.
However, Cork had a goal chance of their own just three minutes later, when Ciara O'Sullivan's strike was turned away by Monaghan netminder Linda Martin, whose performance delighted McGonigle, especially in light of her error which led to a Cleary goal in September's All-Ireland final.
"I've been involved in ladies football for maybe 10 or 15 years, and Linda Martin is up there with the best 'keepers I've ever seen. If you go back to the Meath game last year in the quarter-final down in Birr, if it wasn't for her we mightn't have even been in a semi-final or final," he said.
Cork did eventually open their account nine minutes in courtesy of a point from corner-forward Cleary, but Monaghan were eager to show their intent and three unanswered scores from Kindlon (two) and Laura McEnaney (daughter of Meath manager Seamus) gave them a four-point cushion after 17 minutes.
Cork improved as the half wore on, however, and late scores by Orlagh Farmer, Cleary and Murphy (free) brought the margin down to 0-6 to 0-5 by the interval.
With the breeze against the Farney ladies in the second half, it was expected that favourites Cork would push on, but it was Monaghan who came up with the better response, with full-forward Kindlon notching an opening-minute point, her fourth of the afternoon.
The first goal of the game then came courtesy of McConnell, who squeezed a rebounded effort past the stranded Elaine Harte after the Rebelette custodian had clawed away her initial shot.
This was followed up almost immediately by an excellent individual Caoimhe Mohan point, and suddenly Cork were presented with a mountain to climb.
A Murphy free reduced the gap, but three points on the trot from the superb McConnell (two) and Mohan gave Monaghan a nine-point advantage heading into the final quarter.
Though it did seem unlikely beforehand, Monaghan were now heading towards a comfortable triumph. Cork's character is unquestionable, though, and, thanks to the exuberance of replacements Mulcahy and Doireann O'Sullivan, they managed to pull themselves back into the tie.
Firstly, Cleary was on hand to kick a deflected effort past Martin (after a quick lay-off by Mulcahy), before three-time All Star Mulcahy coolly slotted home a penalty four minutes later after midfielder Murphy had been pulled down inside the square.
This dramatically brought the margin down to three, which increased the anticipation as the end of a consistently engrossing tie beckoned.
However, Monaghan refused to panic, and an insurance point by McConnell got them over the line, despite a late free by Mulcahy.
Following such a great run in the league, which dates back to their 2008 win over Kerry, there was certainly a great degree of disappointment in the Cork camp after their defeat, which was something that manager Ryan was not attempting to hide.
"We're disappointed, we didn't play very well, but they played very well so credit where credit is due," he said.
"I think the five or 10 minutes after half-time we let the game get away from us a bit. That was disappointing, we really needed to move on after half-time, but we didn't. That's the way games go.
"It's still a bit of a setback to lose any match. It was a setback, it would be pointless now not to admit that. We wanted to win, and we were beaten, so obviously we're not happy."
Scorers -- Monaghan: C McConnell 1-4, N Kindlon 0-4 (1f), C Mohan 0-3, L McEnaney 0-2. Cork: N Cleary 1-2, V Mulcahy 1-1 (1-0 pen, 0-1f), J Murphy 0-3 (2f), O Farmer 0-1 each.
MONAGHAN -- L Martin 8; G McNally 7, S Courtney 8, C Reilly 7; A McAnespie 7, T McNally 7, N Fahy 7; A Casey 7, I Kierans 6; C McAnespie 7, L McEnaney 8, C Courtney 7; C McConnell 9, N Kindlon 8, C Mohan 8. Subs: E McElroy 7 for Kierans (h-t), E McCarron for McEnaney (56), L Connolly for Fahy (58).
CORK -- E Harte 7, AM Walsh 6, D O'Reilly 7, R Buckley 6; B Corkery 7, B Stack 7, G O'Flynn 6; J Murphy 7, N Kelly 7; A Walsh 6, C O'Sullivan 7 , G Kearney 6; N Cleary 8, R Ni Bhuachalla 6, O Farmer 6. Subs: V Mulcahy 8 for Kearney (40), L McMahon 7 for A Walsh (40), D O'Sullivan 8 for Farmer (45), A Sheehan for AM Walsh (58).
REF -- G Corrigan (Down)