Cork will have learnt a lot from their semi-final scare, but is two weeks enough to change tack?
It’s a familiar storyline in today’s Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior camogie final. Kilkenny and Cork, rivals, sometimes bitter, for over half a century. In fact it has only been this duo and Galway at the final stage for the last decade, so the teams know each other inside out.
This encounter is expected to be tight and tough and with Ray Kelly refereeing, we are sure to see a real physical battle, hopefully in contrast to the stop-start nature of the football final last weekend.
A point separated the teams in last year’s semi-final with Cork emerging victorious, and the sides drew in the league this year so I think the minimum will separate them again today.
Since the sides last met in a final, it’s a fourth All-Ireland appearance in five years for Kilkenny, their only win in that time was when they lifted the cup behind closed doors in 2020 against Galway. Cork last won the title in 2018, against Kilkenny, decided by an injury-time contentious free in a low-scoring, defensive affair. Although not a famine, with the conveyor belt of youth and volume of players in comparison to all the other counties, it must feel like it. Already this year the under 16 and minor All-Ireland titles are residing in Cork.
Camogie people are hoping for a free-flowing attacking game, not an over emphasis on defence or negative tactics as was served up by the sides in 2017 and 2018.
It is hoped that Cork will attack the Kilkenny rearguard that may have questions pace wise, and with the speedy Amy O’Connor up front, this could be critical to their strategy.
Cork have enough quality forwards in former Down player Sorcha McCarton, Chloe Sigerson, Fiona Keating and the evergreen Katrina Mackey to trouble the Kilkenny defence if they are supplied with enough quality possession. But if most of their half-forward line spend the game in the defensive side of the field, relying on outnumbering Kilkenny in that area and transitioning at speed, this could suit Kilkenny.
The fact remains that the scoring range in camogie is not as large as in hurling, so Kilkenny will look to get their forwards working extremely hard, hold their defensive shape and limit the supply into Cork. At the very least, that should affect the quality of supply going in, in a similar fashion to what Waterford did for three-quarters of the semi-final.
Cork were lucky to emerge victorious in that game, their superior strength, conditioning and fitness and the assured display of Ashling Thompson when introduced, were ultimately the deciding factors. They will obviously have learnt a lot from this scare, but is two weeks enough to change tack?
Kilkenny will look to turn over Cork in the middle third and rely on more traditional values of good handling, good control and crisper striking to get scores. With Denise Gaule, Miriam O’Connell, Miriam Walsh and Julianne Malone up front, they have the potential in attack to do so.
Coming into this game, the most concerning stat for Cork has to be their failure to score for 25 minutes against Waterford. Only five points from play scored in 40 minutes, that just won’t do against Kilkenny. Cork have yet to put in a full 65-minute performance this season, and in last year’s final, they were beaten by a late Galway surge. Ahead with ten minutes to go, instead of pushing up and going for the win, they retreated and played too defensively. The big question is, have they learned from this?
If Kilkenny can get their match-ups right and dominate Ashling Thompson and Hannah Looney at midfield, it will go a long way towards winning, but that’s easier said than done. Katie Power is playing her best camogie this year and alternates between midfield and the forwards. Her likely partner is Laura Murphy, who chipped in with 1-1 in the semi-final. They are more than capable of putting in a performance to stop that Cork launchpad.
Both camps have experienced personnel losses this year. For Kilkenny, the Doyle sisters to the dreaded cruciate injury. With no Colette Dormer or Davina Tobin in the full-back line, Brian Dowling had to be creative with his panel. A move to full-back for Grace Walsh has worked and along with Michelle Teehan and Niamh Deely, they kept the Galway full-forward line to just one point from play in the semi-final, although they did dish out a few cynical fouls, with Teahan’s rugby tackle on Siobhan McGrath in the first half probably the most frustrating for Galway.
The experienced Clare Phelan at six holds the D. You would have to tip your hat to back-room members, Philly Larkin and Pat O’Neill who have the important outfield experience of winning All-Irelands with Kilkenny and now passing it on to the next generation. They have the defensive unit dogged and teak tough, and I’m sure they will have a plan for the Cork attack.
Speaking of back-room team members, it’s no mean feat for Matthew Twomey, in his first year in charge, to bring this team back to the All-Ireland. Bringing in Davy Fitzgerald could be seen as a masterstroke and it has received much of the plaudits. How much has Davy Fitz invested in this? If Davy could give it 100 per cent then maybe his stamp and influence might be seen more across the Cork play.
Media, other work and club hurling commitments have clashed with camogie match day and preparations this year and it is difficult to know if he is as hands on as he would like to be. Soundbites from the Cork camp have all been very positive so it will be interesting to see what approach they will take against Kilkenny.
Cork are without Orla Cronin, Linda Collins and Pamela Mackey this season, but newcomers like Leaving Cert student Meabh Murphy have slotted in seamlessly and they have players like Emma Murphy and dual minor star Orlaith Cahalane to spring from the bench.
Cork half-backs Laura Tracey and Saoirse McCarthy are given the freedom to push forward and break and it will be a fascinating tussle with Gaule and Malone, the latter scoring four points from play in the semi-final. Miriam Walsh at full-forward for Kilkenny will take a lot of minding. Her aerial strength, ability to win her own ball and her unselfish trait of distributing to the player in a better position makes her a key player in the Kilkenny attack.
It is expected that Libby Coppinger will pick her up. She was one of the Cork players who dug deep when things were going against them in the semi-final.
Kilkenny have gone unbeaten this season, and I think that run will continue today if they get their match-ups right. It just feels like they are playing with a cause and won’t be stopped.