Friday 24 November 2017

Murphy's Rebelettes refuse to give up crown

Cork 1-10 Monaghan 1-9 - TG4 All-ireland ladies SFC final

Midfield giant Juliette Murphy
Midfield giant Juliette Murphy
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

WHEN all the smoke and tears had cleared, nothing had changed.

Monaghan's free-taker lay stretched on the ground, heartbroken after missing a chance to take it to a replay with the last kick of the game and they were apoplectic about some of the officiating.

But the status quo remained: Cork's magnificent team are still the undisputed queens of women's Gaelic football, after clinging on by their fingernails to maintain their extraordinary 100pc record in their eighth senior final.

Farney boss Gregory McGonigle said a lot of things afterwards – most of them about referee John Niland – but the truest words he uttered were: "Cork, being Cork, found a way to win."

The Rebelettes play a song en route to matches called 'Don't Give Up Until It's Over' and that mantra dragged them across the line yesterday when players without their seven medals and lioness hearts would simply have given up.

Cathriona McConnell was understandably devastated to miss the 30-metre free that could have earned a repreive and stopped Monaghan losing their fourth final since 2002, including 2008 and 2011 also to Cork.


But she really should not beat herself up. It was one of her frees that had put them clear with seven minutes remaining and she was kicking into a treacherous cross-wind.

The reality was that Cork had far more chances to put it away earlier and kicked nine second-half wides wides before pulling out two scores in the final five minutes to demonstrate why they were going for another three-in-a-row.

Midfield giant Juliet Murphy fittingly got the first of them to level it with four minutes left, before a Valerie Mulcahy free edged them ahead.

If Murphy (33) hadn't done a U-turn on her retirement decision this summer Cork would not still be champions.

"We're all aware that there's only so much time left in anything and we were definitely near the end there with 30 seconds to go," Murphy admitted before confirming that yes, this was definitely her last game.

The finest player of her generation, she is simply irreplaceable and her return led Cork out of the fog they floundered in earlier this summer and again yesterday, when veterans like Briege Corkery and Geraldine O'Flynn also hauled them through a crisis.

This was possibly the least elegant of their eight titles and, at times downright ugly, with both sides ultra-defensive.

Monaghan, for whom Sharon Courtney, Cora Courtney, Ciara McAnespie and Caoimhe Mohan were outstanding, certainly felt they came off on the worst side of some fussy refereeing.

Losing Eileen McKenna to the sin-bin in the 49th minute was a hammer blow, especially with the sides were delicately poised on 1-8 apiece. But losing tearaway corner-forward Mohan to severe cramp with five minutes left was arguably even more costly.

McGonigle was furious that their efforts to introduce Niamh Kindlon as a substitute for McKenna when Mohan first pulled up were foiled "three times", particularly as the latter was then yellow-carded for a robust tackle on Deirdre O'Reilly.

"Against the big teams, you don't get them decisions," he said. "I stand to be corrected, but I don't think Cork have had a player sin-binned since they lost to Tyrone in 2010. They're a great team but it's tough to get big decisions against them."

He was also unhappy that the final hooter was sounded before McConnell's final kick, feeling that it added pressure.

But he conceded that the Rebelettes are "a fantastic team who never give up" and, for a long time, his side struggled to break down Cork's blanket defence.

Apart from veterans like Murphy, Briege Corkery, Brid Stack and Geraldine O'Flynn, Cork were not outstanding.

They were held to just four second-half scores by a gutsy side who trailed by just a Valerie Mulcahy goal at half-time (1-6 to 0-6) and then took the lead within five minutes of the restart thanks to a soft penalty, earned by Courtney and slotted by goalkeeper Linda Martin.

But Cork's decision to reintroduce veteran 'keeper Elaine Harte for the final paid off as she made a wonderful save off Mohan after 22 minutes.

The Rebelettes may have contrived to almost kick away victory with some terrible second-half wides but tapped into the huge reserves of skill and endurance they have banked in the past decade, not to mention the sisterhood of so much time spent in the trenches.

Supervising it all again was their father-figure manager Eamonn Ryan, the sprightly 72-year-old with the sort of inspirational attitude that surely adds to their longevity.

"It's the third match this year we've won by a point, that's the kind of gang they are. They're fierce loyal to each other and us as well," he said.

"Everyone asks what the secret is but there is none, just a group of like-minded individuals who don't wallow in this self-pity that says 'we're doing great sacrifice for the good of Cork'.

"We're doing it because we all love the game," Ryan grinned. "We all love being involved and coming back to do it again. Sure how could it be a sacrifice to be up here today?"

Scorers – Cork: V Mulcahy 1-4 (3fs), J Murphy, N Cleary 0-2 each, G O'Flynn, A Walsh 0-1. Monaghan: C McConnell 0-4 (4fs), L Martin 1-0 (pen), C Mohan 0-2, T McNally, L McEnaney, C McAnespie 0-1 each.

Cork – E Harte; B Corkery, B Stack, AM Walsh (capt); R Buckley, Angela Walsh, G O'Flynn; J Murphy, D O'Reilly; N Cleary, Annie Walsh, C O'Sullivan; V Mulcahy, D O'Sullivan, R Ni Bhuachalla. Subs: O Farmer for Ni Bhuachalla (h-t), O Finn for Annie Walsh (48), Ni Bhuachalla for Farmer (52), A Barrett for AM Walsh (60).

Monaghan – L Martin; G McNally, S Courtney, C Reilly; L McEnaney, Y Connell, A McAnespie; A Casey, Y Connell; T McNally (capt), C Mohan, C Courtney; C McConnell, E McKenna, C McAnespie. Subs: E McElroy for A McAnespie (h-t), N Kindlon for Mohan (inj, 56).

Ref – J Niland (Sligo).

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