Finn-tastic Rebelettes dash Donegal dreams
Cork 2-15 Donegal 2-14
Ephie Fitzgerald may be overseeing a period of transition in Cork, but they still landed a fifth successive Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 title yesterday.
Orla Finn collected 1-10 as the Rebelettes made it nine league wins in 10 seasons at a sun-splashed Parnell Park.
From the start, Cork fielded just seven of the players who started against Dublin in last September's All-Ireland senior final at Croke Park, but they were still victorious against a dogged Donegal.
Deirdre O'Reilly retired this year, dual stars Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley could make a call on their futures this week, captain Ciara O'Sullivan is travelling and 2016 Player of the Year Bríd Stack was ruled out through injury.
Factor in the red-hot form of Donegal sharpshooters Geraldine McLaughlin and Yvonne McMonagle, who scored 3-10 when the sides met in Mallow, and many fancied a final upset.
However, Cork's new generation came of age in an intense battle, and Fitzgerald knows they'll take some stopping again in the summer.
"What can I say? People were writing us off at the start of the year, saying it was an end of an era for Cork," he said.
"Now, it's the league, but it's very important for us, in light of having eight girls who never played in a match of this stature before. We have three titles to defend, we'll celebrate this and prepare for the Munster Championship."
At the start of the campaign, Fitzgerald wasn't quite sure where his charges would finish up in the league pecking order and he added: "I didn't know, to be honest. I always felt we would be confident, but whether I felt we'd be league champions or not, it's a big step.
"With the eight debutants and we only used six of the All-Ireland team during the league, it just goes to show their talent.
"I thought some of the football we played today was absolutely brilliant at times. Niamh Cotter's engine in the middle of the field, Jess (O'Shea) in the second-half, small in stature but she was excellent.
"These girls have been around a bit too. Obviously they found it hard to get into the team, with the older girls, because the standard was set so high. These girls are setting their own bar now."
Donegal manager Micheál Naughton wouldn't be drawn on the performance of match referee Colm McManus, who angered fans with some late calls.
Donegal's frustration boiled over when Yvonne McMonagle was sin-binned late on, before Katy Herron was sent off on a straight red card.
Naughton said: "When you get a bad decision, girls get a little bit frustrated and annoyed and maybe left their hands in too long. Nevertheless, Cork take the trophy home and we have to go home, regroup, refocus and turn our attention to the championship."
Ultimately, Finn was the difference in an absorbing encounter which was level six times. Cork had the nous and know-how to deny the first-time Division 1 finalists and Finn was brilliant, scoring 1-4 in the first-half before adding six second-half points.
Donegal's lethal inside pairing of McMonagle and McLaughlin had blazed a trail to the final, registering 12-36 between them in their previous four games, but they were held scoreless in the second-half.
In the first-half, McLaughlin scored 1-4 and McMonagle 0-3, but they drew a blank after the break as Cork pulled down the shutters. With 10 minutes of normal time left, the sides were level at 2-13 apiece before two Finn frees put daylight between the sides.
Karen Guthrie reduced the deficit to just a point again, but Cork held out as Donegal lost their heads.
Scorers - Cork: O Finn 1-10 (9f), E Scally 1-1, B O'Sullivan 0-2, N Cotter & L Coppinger 0-1 each. Donegal: G McLaughlin 1-4 (1f), N Hegarty 1-1, K Guthrie 0-4 (3f), Y McMonagle 0-3, K Herron & E Ward 0-1.
Cork - M O'Brien; M Ambrose, R Phelan, E Spillane; M Duggan, E Meaney, S Kelly; N Cotter, J O'Shea; L Coppinger, B O'Sullivan, O Farmer; E Scally, D O'Sullivan, O Finn. Subs: A Hutchings for Coppinger (53), Á O'Sullivan for Farmer (56).
Donegal - A McColgan; T Doherty, E Gallagher, N McLaughlin; T McClafferty, C Hegarty, K Keeney; K Herron, K Guthrie; G Houston, N Hegarty, S McGruddy; R Friel, G McLaughlin, Y McMonagle. Subs: D Foley for Keeney (inj, 7), P McGrory for Friel (h-t), E Ward for McGruddy (46).
Ref - C McManus (Meath)