Mulcahy sublime as Cork lift title
Ladies NFL Division 1 Final
Cork remain the team to beat in the race for the All-Ireland Ladies senior football championship.
That was the verdict from Laois boss Joe Higgins following last Saturday's league decider in front of a crowd of over 3,000 at Parnell Park.
Higgins watched his side put it up to the champions, who captured a fourth successive league crown, until the final quarter before the Leesiders pulled away with an unanswered 1-5 to claim the silverware.
Cork fell at the quarter-final stage in last year's All-Ireland championship as they chased the six-in-a-row, but Higgins saw enough evidence to suggest that the Rebelettes will lead the chasing pack looking to hunt down holders Dublin.
Higgins, a former Leinster SFC medallist with Laois, revealed: "I was in the Cork dressing-room after the game. I said to them that they're the benchmark that everyone marks themselves against.
"They're going to be there or thereabouts. They lost out to Tyrone last year but they've not gone away and they're going to be up there at the top. Come the Munster championship, they'll be ready and I can't see them being beaten in Munster. And from there on, they're contenders for the All-Ireland. They're the team to beat again."
Cork will tackle Division 3 champions Clare in next month's Munster championship with renewed hope in their hearts.
The hunger levels on display in front of a bumper Parnell Park attendance were enough to suggest that Cork are geared up for a massive tilt at All-Ireland glory.
A sixth league title in seven seasons was hard-earned, but Cork dug in when the game was going against them and fought back from a disastrous start which saw Laois charge 1-2 to 0-0 ahead within five minutes.
But Cork had restored parity by the 12th minute and at half-time the sides were level at 2-5 to 2-5.
In the first Division 1 final meeting between the two counties since 1993, Laois refused to yield and with 11 minutes of normal time remaining, the O'Moore County trailed by just a single point, 3-9 to 3-10.
But Cork's experience told down the home straight and a wind-assisted 1-5 closed the game out for the Munster champions.
Ace forward Valerie Mulcahy grabbed the headlines with 1-8, including 1-5 from frees, while centre-forward Orlagh Farmer bagged a brace of goals, one of them a contentious second-half award as referee Eugene O'Hare appeared at first to have signalled for a free out, before allowing the effort to stand after consulting with his umpires.
Mulcahy hit the goal that ultimately killed off the Laois challenge, cheekily hitting a 20-metre free to the net in the 56th minute with the O'Moore County defence caught napping.
The return of long-term cruciate knee ligament victims Geraldine O'Flynn and Ciara O'Sullivan, who scored three points from the substitute's bench, will have pleased long-serving boss Eamon Ryan.
The experienced trio of Angela Walsh, Brid Stack and Juliet Murphy down the spine of the Cork team also came through unscathed following their recent injury concerns and the Rebelettes now look well primed for a summer assault on provincial and All-Ireland honours.
"We had a very long day. We were on the road since 10.0 this morning, some since 8.30, and you can lose focus," Ryan reflected. "We were worried about the start and with good reason as it turned out -- they were 1-2 up within a few minutes.
"We were in trouble and we were lucky once or twice -- Laois kicked wides when they could have scored points. Then we got a goal (by Rhona Ni Bhuachalla) which brought us back into it.
"In the second half, when we went ahead, they pulled us back twice and it looked like it would go down to the wire. But in the last 10 minutes, our substitutions worked well.
"Players were getting tired, new players came in and got to the pace of the game very quickly. We have Clare in the first round of the championship -- that's as far as we look.
"Last year we won the league but we were dumped out of the championship by Tyrone. We'll just go game by game -- it's a cliche but there's no other way you can approach it."
Laois, who were beaten by Dublin in last year's Leinster decider and again in the All-Ireland semi-final, may have fallen at the final league hurdle, but Higgins is pleased with the team's progress.
Laois' first championship test of the summer is against Kildare next month and Higgins said: "Kildare beat us well in the first round of the league.
"They're improving every year but, having said that, we're improving as well. We're expecting a titanic battle against Kildare and I think Leinster is wide open.
"You have Meath there, I know they got beaten today against Dublin, but they'll come back strong and learn from that. Dublin won't have it all their own way against them. Who improves and learns most from the league going into the championship will come out on top."
Player of the Match: Valerie Mulcahy (Cork)
Scorers -- Cork: V Mulcahy 1-8 (1-5f), O Farmer 2-0, R Ni Bhuachalla 1-0, C O'Sullivan 0-3, N Cleary 0-2, G Kearney, D O'Reilly 0-1 each. Laois: T Lawlor 1-5 (0-4f), Martha Kirwan 1-1, A Moore 1-0, Mary Kirwan 0-2 (2f), S Doogue 0-1.
CORK -- E Harte 7; AM Walsh 7, Angela Walsh 8, D O'Reilly 8; B Corkery 7, B Stack 7, A Sheehan 6; J Murphy 7, Annie Walsh 6; N Cleary 7, O Farmer 7, G Kearney 6; V Mulcahy 9, R Ni Bhuachalla 7, A O'Shea 8. Subs: Rena Buckley 7 for Annie Walsh (36), G O'Flynn 7 for Sheehan (43), C O'Sullivan 8 for Ní Bhuachalla (49), M Kelly 6 for Kearney (53), A Barrett for Corkery (60).
LAOIS -- C Dollard 8; A Quigley 6, G Dunne 6, E Healy 6; A Taylor 6, L Hyland 6, J Moore 6; A Casey 6, T Lawlor 8; Mary Kirwan 6, A Moore 7, D Callinan 6; Martha Kirwan 7, S Doogue 7, G Weston 6. Subs: M Dunne 6 for Callinan (h-t), M McEvoy 6 for Martha Kirwan (44), O Farrell 6 for Hyland (47), S Quigley 6 for Weston (47), A Kehoe for Casey (60).
Ref -- E O'Hare (Down)