Glory for captain Geary as Cork launch stunning rally
Cork 2-12 Kilkenny 1-9 All-Ireland Snr Camogie Final
SOME pedant recently argued on social media that the use of the nickname ‘Rebelettes’ is somehow demeaning to Cork’s great female players, that its literal meaning somehow diminished their remarkable achievements.
Others believe the label rightly distinguishes them from their male counterparts, that they deserve to be identified with a word that immediately identifies a team of unconquerable heroines.
If ever the Rebelettes showed their brilliance and resilience, it was in yesterday’s 25th All-Ireland senior camogie victory.
At half-time they looked punch-drunk and on the ropes.
They were trailing last year’s beaten finalists by five points (1-6 to 0-4) and that margin would have been far greater were it not for Aoife Murray’s awesome shot-stopping skills which was showcased in the seventh minute when she pulled off a miracle save against Michelle Quilty.
The Cats, chasing their first title in 20 years after winning the league title, came hunting ferociously in packs with their claws sharpened and ready, closing them down, running riot in midfield and giving Cork a serious taste of their own medicine.
Yet the Munster stars came out like prize fighters, outscoring them 2-8 to 0-3 in the second half to win their first title in five years with a performance of grit and defiance that was as gutsy as they have ever produced.
The final scoreline flattered them, and not just because Julia White set up Angela Walsh for a goal deep in injury time –Kilkenny were denied what looked like a stone-wall penalty in the first minute of injury-time when they were trailing by three points and Aoife Neary was hauled down.
Had John Dolan given it things could have swung dramatically and Kilkenny certainly didn’t deserve to lose by the final margin, which did not reflect their early dominance.
Yet, once Cork got the bit between their teeth in that frenetic second half you felt that, whatever was thrown at them, the Rebelettes would not be defeated, having eventually found their rhythm and momentum.
Captain Anna Geary was shedding “not a few tears but buckets” afterwards and her eloquence under pressure underlined why she was chosen as a Rose of Tralee contestant this year.
As a squad and management Cork have been touched by several tragedies in the past year, most recently the death of Jennifer O’Leary’s sister.
“A lot of people have stuff going on in their lives but for 60 minutes they put it out of their minds,” Geary said.
“We’ve had some people having bereavements and struggles. It puts it into perspective. This is the power of sport, it’s an opportunity for people to create a little bit of happiness through the sadness and that’s what happened with us today.
“You have the power to lift someone else up when they’re down. That’s what sport does. It lifts people up. I think everyone today down in Cork has got a little bit of a lift out of this, I really do.
“I can’t put it into words,” Geary added, describing the perfect end to her fairytale year, in which she also won a club All-Ireland with Milford and stood on the stage of the Dome in Tralee, as “a surreal feeling in a surreal year.”
Cork manager Paudie Murray (Aoife’s brother) revealed that O’Leary is one of Cork’s most dedicated players, always topping their fitness tests despite travelling to training from her base in Armagh.
He said he needed to say very little to his team at half-time and Geary admitted that the players themselves were brutally honest with each other about their first-half deficiencies.
As expected they used Gemma O’Connor as a sweeper from the start with Ashling Thompson an auxiliary wing-back. Yet they still let in a goal after 17 minutes which Michelle Quilty dispatched on the rebound after Aisling Dunphy’s shot was initially blocked.
With Ann Dalton to the fore, Kilkenny won five of their Cork’s first-half puck-outs and they were clearing far too much wild ball, while Denise Gaule, Quilty and Katie Power were testing the limits of their defence.
The one decent attack they made in the first half – a trademark run by the half-woman, half-tiger that is dual genius Briege Corkery – was intercepted at a vital moment by in-form corner-back Jacqui Frisby and Kilkenny really had them on the back-foot and looked set to finally win one after those five painful final losses since 1995.
Yet Cork roared back out of the traps on resumption. Gemma O’Connor and Angela Walsh rolled back the years and Walsh, Corkery and Rena Buckley won their 13th senior All-Ireland medals (between camogie and football) which they could take to 14 in the ladies’ football final in two weeks time.
Shelly Farrell immediately re-opened the scoring for Kilkenny but then they were hit with a 1-4 without reply, with Corkery providing points either side of O’Leary’s 40th-minute goal which gave Cork their first lead of the match.
Twelve minutes later they were three points clear and you sensed they were simply not for turning.
Colette Dormer tried to rally her side with a great point and Kilkenny threw the kitchen sink at them in the final minutes, contributed hugely to a game which, truthfully, only took fire in the final 20 minutes.
The Cats’ joint Manager Graham Dillon was remarkably sanguine and magnanimous about the penalty incident afterwards, saying: “Whether it was or wasn’t a penalty, you still have to stand up and score it so we won’t blame it on a penalty.
“Cork probably showed more intensity in the second half and we failed to match it. You have to credit the girls for fighting to the end and getting in around the square.”
He correctly identified that, ultimately, Kilkenny should have put up more scores when they had the upper hand, saying “we probably didn’t get enough on the board in the first half.”
That was, at times, down to Murray’s goalkeeping excellence, which is always a given.
The big question was whether this great Cork team, who last won a final in 2009 and lost one in 2012, could find the form of old and once again, like they did all season, they kept digging and digging until it came to them, finally running into the space they had created upfront by packing their defence.
“We didn’t start well, our game-plan went out the window so at half-time that was the message – ‘get back to the game-plan,” Cork manager Murray say.
“The game-plan was to take the ball on all the time but Kilkenny came with their own plan and upset us.
“All year we’ve had our struggles but there’s great character in this team and when they were facing defeat they came together. There’s a lot of them now with six All-Irelands, you can’t buy that stuff.”
When the game was in the melting pot Cork had more heart and hunger.
They mightn’t have wowed and dazzled like they did at the height of their powers but somehow they still found a way to win: the perfect female embodiment of everything their county and their jersey represents.
Scorers – Cork: O Cotter 0-6 (3fs, 1 ‘45’), J O’Leary 1-1, A Walsh 1-0, B Corkery 0-2, E O’Sullivan, J White, K Mackey 0-1 each. Kilkenny: D Gaule 0-5 (4fs), M Quilty 1-1, C Dormer, S Farrell and K Power 0-1 each.
Cork – A Murray 9; J O’Callaghan 7, A Geary 7, L Tracey 6; E O’Sullivan 7, G O’Connor 8, P Mackey 6; R Buckley 8, A Thompson 6; B Corkery 9, A Walsh 8, J O’Leary 7; J White 8, O Cotter 7, K Mackey 6. Sub: J Casey for O’Leary (61).
Kilkenny– E Kavanagh 7; M Power 7, K McDonald 7, J Frisby 7; C Phelan 6, C Dormer 7, E Aylward 8; L Fennelly (Capt) 7, A Dalton 8; D Gaule 8, A Dunphy 7, A Connery 7; S Farrell 6, K Power 7, M Quilty 7. Subs: M Walsh 6 for Connery (43), A Neary 7 for Farrell (53), E Keane 6 for Fennelly (56).
Referee - J Dolan (Clare).
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