Sport Camogie

Sunday 9 December 2018

Cork's secret is that they care more than anyone else

Talking point

Ashling Thompson of Cork shows her determination as she gets away from Kilkenny’s Katie Power. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ashling Thompson of Cork shows her determination as she gets away from Kilkenny’s Katie Power. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

All the single-point victory ladies put their hands up. Cork's minimum margin win over Kilkenny makes them the first team in camogie history to capture successive All-Ireland finals by one point.

It's an unprecedented achievement but not an entirely unexpected one. The single point All-Ireland final win was the signature triumph of the Cork ladies football team which managed five between 2006 and 2016.

Denise Gaule of Kilkenny can’t hide her disappointment after yesterday’s game. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Denise Gaule of Kilkenny can’t hide her disappointment after yesterday’s game. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Something in the Rebelette psyche relishes such denouements. When the sides entered the closing stages neck and neck yesterday, the writing was on the wall for the women from Kilkenny.

The Cork football team's achievements have tended to overshadow those of their camogie colleagues. But this victory is the fourth in five years for the latter, something only four other sides have managed in the past half-century. They possess a sangfroid, a ruthlessness and an ability to deliver under pressure which makes them remarkable.

Cork are a great team but this was far from a great final. Both teams were hampered by the fussy performance of Derry referee Eamon Cassidy.

Cassidy's Whistle Concerto in CP meant the game largely proceeded in fits and starts. The mildest of physical challenges brought a free, the advantage rule was rarely used and both sides looked frustrated by the jagged rhythm of the game.

Cork camogie captain Aoife Murray (above)lifts the O’Duffy Cup on the steps of the Hogan Stand. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cork camogie captain Aoife Murray (above)lifts the O’Duffy Cup on the steps of the Hogan Stand. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Yet, crucially, it was Kilkenny who suffered most at Cassidy's hands. The early penalty he awarded to Cork was dubious and two yellow cards imposed on Kilkenny players not much less so. More questionable still were the two frees which yielded Cork's final scores.

When Davina Tobin was penalised for charging two minutes from time the free could have gone the other way or not been awarded at all. Chloe Sigerson converted it superbly but you felt this would be a very unsatisfactory way to decide an All-Ireland final. Denise Gaule equalised but, as the game moved into injury-time, there was further controversy.

Cassidy indicated that Orla Cotter had been tripped on the right wing though the Cork forward seemed to slip as she sought to elude defenders. Kilkenny manager Ann Downey was incensed. Cotter got up and scored the match-winning free.

Had such a borderline call decided a men's game of similar importance we'd have been in booing, ref jostling and garda escort territory. Camogie is too civilised for that but the controversial decisions are sure to haunt Kilkenny. It's not been the best of weekends for male officials in women's sport.

Yet you can't say the Derry maestro cost Kilkenny the game. Enough time remained for Claire Phelan to shoot wide when she might have scored the equaliser.

The unexciting nature of the game can't all be blamed on the ref. Both sides were set up for containment rather than construction.

Kilkenny, in particular, funnelled players back into their own half to an extent that would have gladdened the heart of the most pragmatic Ulster football manager. Katie Power was so isolated in the full-forward line she resembled one of those Japanese soldiers fighting on for years in the jungle after the war had ended and wondering where the reinforcements were.

Cork were more ambitious and two sweeping moves at the end of the first half which led to fine Orla Cronin points showed what they'd have been capable of in a more expansive game. Katrina Mackey also bagged a couple of points and looked the most dangerous attacker.

The outnumbered Kilkenny forwards were further shackled by redoubtable Cork defending, most notably from full-back Laura Treacy who made Power's task even more thankless. Playing against the wind in the second half it appeared the challengers might lose touch. Yet Kilkenny clung on thanks to Denise Gaule's frees and storming defensive performances from Grace Walsh, Edwina Keane and Anne Dalton.

Had Kilkenny capitalised on the game's best goal chance nine minutes from time even the Cork miracle workers might not have come back. Instead Anna Farrell and Miriam Walsh were both denied by a double save from the brilliant Aoife Murray. Gaule popped over the resultant 65 to leave them one up and they held that lead for the next five minutes as tension mounted.

They'd probably have needed a goal to kill off the champs. The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: "If you shoot at the king you must kill him." Cork have made a habit out of springing back to life against opponents who've hung the garlic round their necks but failed to hammer the stake through their heart.

Perhaps their secret is that Cork care more about camogie than anyone else. Yesterday's 21,647 was the fourth highest attendance in final history. The seven biggest attendances have all been at finals involving Cork. Four out of five, nine of the last 17. Twenty-eight in all. They are the sport's ultimate winners.

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