Wednesday 13 December 2017

Records broken in controversial, exciting Ladies Football Final

25 September 2016; Nicole Owens of Dublin in action against Róisín Phelan of Cork during the Ladies Football All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final match between Cork and Dublin at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
25 September 2016; Nicole Owens of Dublin in action against Róisín Phelan of Cork during the Ladies Football All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final match between Cork and Dublin at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

RECORDS were equalled and broken and there was some controversy, but nothing can take away from Cork’s latest piece of ladies’ gaelic football history.

The failure to use Croke Park’s HawkEye system to verify and award them a legitimate score in the first half left Dublin furious after they suffered the heartbreak of losing their third consecutive TG4 senior final to the Rebels.

But even if the technology had been in use it is doubtful that it would have changed the outcome.

The margin may only have been a point at the end (1-7 to 1-6) but Dublin’s goal – a Sinead Aherne penalty – only came in the final minute and produced in a score-line that flattered the losers.

Dublin completely dominated possession in the first half and should have been two points ahead, not one (0-4 to 0-3), at the break, if Carla Rowe’s score had been allowed.

But the final scoreline does not show how Cork then overpowered them with a run of 1-4  that underlined why they are the greatest team the women’s game has ever seen.

It definitely does not tell the heroism that they, yet again, managed to unearth.

The history-books will give the hard statistics; that this was Cork’s first six in-a-row and their 11th title in 12 years, and that this victory brought them level with Kerry’s famous team of the 1980s as joint table-toppers on the senior honours list.

The attendance, which defied some terrible weather that also marred the quality of the game, was also a record 34,445, breaking the 33,000 mark that attended the 2001 final.

But cold facts do not encapsulate the guts and tenacity and selflessness that the reigning champions demonstrated yet again yesterday.

The early second-half goal that finally got them into the game came, yet, again from their ‘Super-Sub’ Rhona Ni Bhuachalla.

Just as she did in the final two years ago the St Finbarr’s forward produced another of her famous cameo appearances yet insisted on deflecting the glory afterwards.

“People don’t see the girls who do the hard grafting to get you the ball,” she insisted. “Two years ago Valerie (Mulcahy) took four defenders out of it with one amazing pass. Today it was Ciara O’Sullivan.”

For years Ni Buachalla has been content to stay in the wings, the quintessential ‘impact sub’, who never complains.

“Playing with Cork and playing with this group since 2007 has been the best experience of my life,” she insisted, the epitome of a team player.

Her goal, Cork’s first score from play since the sixth minute, gave them the oxygen they needed to kick on and then another young woman found her range against all the odds.

Doireann O’Sullivan is only 21 but, as coach James Masters revealed, has been struggling badly with a bulging disc in her back.

Yet, with the sides equal, she produced an inspirational point in the 50th minute and scored two more of their next three to push them four points clear with five minutes remaining.

From that point you couldn’t see Cork beaten and Dublin’s consolation goal looked exactly that.

For a team that lost their long-time manager and two key players in Valerie Mulcahy and Geraldine O’Flynn this season this was another remarkable display of Cork’s never-say-die spirit, led from the back by veteran defenders Brid Stack and  Deirdre O’Reilly.

Once again the sum of Cork’s parts and fighting spirit was greater than the individual brilliance that opponents like Sinead Aherne and Sinead Goldrick produced.

Briege Corkery, who, like Rena Buckley, had just won her 17th All-Ireland medal between football and camogie, summed up their phenomenal collective effort best when she explained “nobody wants the praise, they just want to win the match.”

The intermediate final between Kildare and Clare was level at half-time (1-7 each) and (1-11) with 10 minutes left.

But the third quarter sin-binning of centre-back Aishling Savage inspired the Lilywhites to dig deepest and, led by brilliant captain Aisling Holton and goalkeeper Mary Hulgraine, they got over the line (1-13 to 1-12) to make up for last year’s final defeat  by Waterford.

The junior final was even more dramatic as Longford won their first title in 19 years in the most dramatic of fashions.

They trailed Antrim by nine points (1-8 to 0-2) after 25 minutes but the introduction of a string of early subs, especially Aisling Reynolds and Michelle Farrell, saw them score 3-8 without reply in a spectacular 17-point turnaround and their remarkable comeback yielded an eventual 4-10 to 1-12 win.

Once again ‘Ladies Day’ at Croke Park provided a treble-header of games which were full of twists and drama right to the final whistle, a fitting end to a particularly thrilling 2016 ladies football season.

TG4 All- Ireland Senior Final

Cork 1-7 Dublin 1-6

TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Final

Kildare 1-13 Clare 1-12

TG4 All-Ireland Junior Final

Longford 4-10 Antrim 1-12

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