Sunday 9 December 2018

Ref comes under fire as Rebelettes secure the two-in-a-row

Cork 0-14 Kilkenny 0-13

Cork players, from left, Leanne O'Sullivan, Laura Treacy, Aoife Murray and Hannah Looney celebrate
Cork players, from left, Leanne O'Sullivan, Laura Treacy, Aoife Murray and Hannah Looney celebrate
Miriam Walsh of Kilkenny has a shot on goal which was subsequently saved by Aoife Murray of Cork. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Cliona Foley

One point - an Orla Cotter free in the first of two minutes of added time - was all that separated Cork from Kilkenny for the second year in a row to win their 28th All-Ireland senior camogie title.

However, while there was drama and beauty in the way last year's final exploded into life in its dramatic last minutes, yesterday's denouement felt much more like a damp squib, especially as it was decided by a particularly contentious decision.

Katrina Mackey of Cork in action against Davina Tobin of Kilkenny. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Katrina Mackey of Cork in action against Davina Tobin of Kilkenny. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Cotter hit the deck in a scrum of Kilkenny players as time ebbed away and few were sure why she got a free.

Referee Eamon Cassidy indicated afterwards that her trailing leg had been fouled, but it was a call that left many scratching their heads and Kilkenny furious.

Cotter still had to score the free from long-range and showed all of her leadership and composure to do it, breaking the Cats hearts for a second year in-a-row.

"Some fella told me it was a controversial free, I didn't mind. I'd take it either way and we could probably have claimed a few more controversial frees during the day," she said afterwards.

Julie Ann Malone of Kilkenny, supported by team mate Michelle Quilty, left, in action against Libby Coppinger of Cork. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Julie Ann Malone of Kilkenny, supported by team mate Michelle Quilty, left, in action against Libby Coppinger of Cork. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The losers subsequently had a good long-range chance themselves to equalise when Anne Dalton took a quick free to Claire Phelan, who shot wide from inside her own half.

But, not for the first time when these two clashed in Croke Park, it was the Rebels who held their nerve better when it mattered most in another suffocating tussle, and some heroic defending from Aisling Thompson and Gemma O'Connor helped them to close it out.

As expected, despite bright dry conditions, this was another arm-wrestle with little flair hurling or open scoring between two sides intent on cancelling each other with crowded defences.

Even before throw-in there was some bizarre mind-games on display. Match officials had to call both sides out of their huddles and before throw-in Cork had all of their forwards huddled, like sheep, in the Kilkenny square, marked tightly by their Cats counterparts.

Katrina Mackey of Cork in action against Catherine Foley of Kilkenny. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Katrina Mackey of Cork in action against Catherine Foley of Kilkenny. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Given that only eight of the game's 27 scores came from play you'd wonder why there's such cloak-and-dagger stuff about positions and line-ups.

Kilkenny were desperately dependant on Denise Gaule's free-taking, which was largely exemplary.

Some blamed referee Eamon Cassidy for blowing far too much, but 33 frees in 64 minutes was not unusually high.

Even in the first quarter he was under the microscope for awarding Amy O'Connor a questionable penalty, which Cork goalkeeper and captain Aoife Murray struck over the bar.

Katie Power of Kilkenny in action against Pamela Mackey of Cork. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Katie Power of Kilkenny in action against Pamela Mackey of Cork. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

And Kilkenny were unhappy that some of his most contentious decisions went against them.

"I've had a look at it in the dressing room and, without criticising Eamon, definitely Orla was already falling," said Cats manager Ann Downey of Cotter's last free.

"Our players were around her, but hadn't touched her. I thought it was a harsh enough free as you saw from my reaction on the line."

Downey was also critical about the previous free when Davina Tobin was called for 'charging', and Cork wing-back Chloe Sigerson struck over from a huge distance to equalise.

"There was two hard calls on us," Downey said. "Eamon will have to look at his own performance and judge himself, I'm not going to give out about him. It is what it is. It's not going to be able to change the result, we have to be able to take it on the chin and move on."

Even winning manager Paudie Murray, who said he didn't see the two biggest calls in the game, suggested that the 'non-contact' element of camogie's rules needs to be changed if the players skills and fitness is to be showcased.

Neutrals feel similarly, especially as defensive tactics which ape hurling seem to have contributed to less flow and open scoring in the modern game.

Irrespective of Cassidy's decision-making, the players also seemed more than happy to wade in and concede frees.

In such packed defences it is increasingly hard whenever these two meet to find enough space to get good shots off and it doesn't make for the most entertaining spectacle for supporters.

Cork's only real goal chance was that early penalty, while Kilkenny's sole opportunity for a green flag came in the third quarter when Anna Farrell burst through and got off a kicked shot which Murray saved.

Kilkenny, who operated with just a few forwards in the first-half, certainly threw more up in the second-half, but couldn't break Cork down and Pamela Mackey did a particularly good marking job on Katie Power.

The margins were tight on both sides but the winners made better decisions. Kilkenny only had eight wides and dropped a few shots short but Cork, noticeably, only had two wides in each half.

When Cork needed leaders to stand up they really had them, like Cotter and the Mackey twins - Katrina and Pamela. Orla Cronin scored two particularly crucial points before half-time to leave it 0-8 apiece at the interval.

Cork's victory saw the legendary Briege Corkery equal Rena Buckley in winning her 18th All-Ireland senior medal (both codes), even though she didn't come off the bench yesterday.

Manager Murray, who finished the day with a split eye after running into a television camera on the final whistle, said their next target will indeed be a three in-a-row.

"To retain a title is important. It take a good team to win back-to-back All-Irelands. That was our goal all year and we knew it was going to take a great effort," he said.

Scorers: Cork - O Cotter 0-5 (5fs), C Sigeron 0-3 (3fs), O Cronin and K Mackey 0-2 each, A O'Connor 0-1, A Murray 0-1 (pen). Kilkenny: D Gaule 0-10 (7f, 2 '45s), M Farrell, J Malone and M Quilty 0-1 each.

Cork - A Murray (Capt) 8; L O'Sullivan 7, L Treacy 7, P Mackey 8; L Coppinger 7, G O'Connor 8, C Sigerson 8; J White 7, A Thompson 8; A O'Connor 8, O Cronin 8, O Cotter 8; K Mackey 8, L Collins 6, H Looney 6. Subs: L O'Sullivan for Collins (51), N McCarthy for O'Connor (63).

Kilkenny - E Kavanagh 7; C Dormer 8, C Foley 8, G Walsh 7; C Phelan 6, A Dalton 8, D Tobin 6; A Farrell 7, M Farrell 6; J Malone 6, K Power 6, D Gaule 8; S Farrell 7, M Quilty 6, E Keane 6. Subs: M Walsh for Quilty (35).

Ref - E Cassidy (Derry)

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