Ryan hails Cork drive to remain at summit
CORK 0-16 KERRY 0-7
CORK have now won seven of the last eight senior titles but, such is their quest for perfection, it's the one that got away that has regularly featured in recent interviews with players and management alike.
Banagher 2010 -- All-Ireland quarter-final against Tyrone. A forgettable and unforgettable afternoon for the Rebelettes in equal measures. Aisling Barrett and Brid Stack were both sin-binned as Tyrone scored a shock win.
Even worse, Ciara O'Sullivan and Geraldine O'Flynn both sustained cruciate knee ligament damage. But it's a defeat that's fuelled Cork ever since. It's their only defeat in eight seasons of senior championship football but serves to keep them focused and desperate to ensure that something similar never happens again.
"We threw one away down in Banagher and that would be still grating," revealed Cork's 71-year-old manager Eamonn Ryan. "That would be like a pebble in our shoe and that motivates us to keep going."
Cork's latest challenge in an All-Ireland senior final was a novel one. Their opponents were Kerry, contesting their first senior decider since 1993. Both counties carried unbeaten records in senior finals into yesterday's Croke Park tussle. Something had to give but Kerry blinked early.
Manager William O'Sullivan opted to pack his defence, with midfielder Lorraine Scanlon deployed at full-forward. The long-ball tactic worked to an extent but Kerry were never going to score enough to win the game. O'Sullivan compared Kerry's evolution to Donegal's footballers. Defensively, they're quite sound. The challenge now is to add more attacking substance to their game.
They've got spirit too. Take captain Bernie Breen for example. With her eyes still wet from tears, the Laune Rangers player revealed after the game that she played on after sustaining a serious shoulder injury early in the first half.
In the meantime, Cork keep rolling on. Eleven of yesterday's starting 15 have now won seven All-Ireland senior medals. The same can be said for sub Angela Walsh.
There were 16,998 spectators present at Croke Park to witness this latest success. It was achieved with minimum fuss. A goal never came, and never looked like coming, but the scoreboard ticked over with regularity nonetheless.
Valerie Mulcahy hit six of her seven points from frees, while Doireann O'Sullivan, who is just 17 years of age, hit four from play from centre-forward. Crucially, Cork's wing-backs got in on the act, hitting three between them as dual star Briege Corkery scored a point before half-time and Player of the Match Geraldine O'Flynn knocked over one in each half.
It was another all-round team performances, underpinned by a remarkable work ethic that we've come to expect from Cork. The game was effectively wrapped up at half-time, as the Leesiders led by 0-10 to 0-3.
Kerry were in touch in the early stages and trailed by 0-2 to 0-3 when Scanlon kicked a 14th-minute point. But the Kingdom, who lost to Cork by six points in this year's Munster final, were barren on the scoreboard for the next 14 minutes.
Cork, meanwhile, tagged on six points without reply to lead by 0-9 to 0-2.
Sarah Houlihan, Kerry's real shining light, landed a 28th-minute point but Cork's response on the stroke of half-time was typical of them.
With Orlagh Farmer's long-range effort on goal hanging in the air, the half-time hooter sounded. The ball drifted over the crossbar and Cork headed for the tunnel armed with a seven-point interval lead.
The opening score of the second half was theirs too, Mulcahy popping over a 35th-minute free. Kerry's response was spirited, with Louise Ni Mhuircheartaigh and sub Patrice Dennehy pointing.
However, Cork were unruffled and as the minutes ticked by, a growing sense of inevitability descended on proceedings. Kerry's misery was compounded in the final minute when Ni Mhuircheartaigh, one of four players named from the start in the attacking positions who failed to score from play, was sin-binned. Cork were home and hosed and Ryan could breathe a sigh of relief.
"It was great. It was difficult enough coming in as raging hot favourites even though we didn't think we were," he said.
"Everyone was saying we would win by this or that and that put fierce pressure on us. I was never so nervous before a match in my life. I even lost all my notes. I had to bluff away before the match. The players didn't know what I was saying."
The free-count heavily favoured the winners, 32 to 11. That was an indication of how Kerry were tackling rather than any bias on the part of the official, who enjoyed a good game.
"Once a team isn't dirty I don't mind it," Ryan said. "We were the favourites, so it was up to them to stop us."
Kerry manager O'Sullivan, who refused to be drawn on his future, reflected: "We're back to this chestnut again. I thought he (referee Gavin Corrigan) was inconsistent in a couple of his calls. (But) to say the ref was poor and cost us the match is incorrect."
Scorers -- Cork: V Mulcahy 0-7 (6f), D O'Sullivan 0-4, G O'Flynn 0-2, B Corkery, O Farmer, N Cleary (f) 0-1 each. Kerry: S Houlihan 0-3 (2f), L Scanlon 0-2, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh (f), P Dennehy 0-1 each.
CORK -- E Harte 7; AM Walsh 6, B Stack 7, D O'Reilly 7; B Corkery 8, R Buckley 7, G O'Flynn 9; J Murphy 7, N Kelly 7; O Farmer 7, D O'Sullivan 8, C O'Sullivan 7; N Cleary 7, V Mulcahy 7, R Ni Bhuachalla 6. Subs: Angela Walsh 6 for AM Walsh (38), O Finn 6 for Ni Bhuachalla (38), L McMahon 6 for Farmer (46), A Hutchings 6 for Kelly (53), Annie Walsh for C O'Sullivan (57).
KERRY -- E Murphy 7; C Lynch 6, A Desmond 6, A Lyons 6; J Brosnan 6, A Leonard 6, L Galvin 6; E Sherwood 6, B Breen 6; C Kelly 6, D Corridan 6, S Houlihan 8; M O'Connell 6, L Scanlon 7, L Ni Mhuircheartaigh 6. Subs: P Dennehy 7 for Corridan (24), M Fitzgerald 6 for Galvin (44), D Corridan for O'Connell (58), SJ Joy for Sherwood (58).
Ref -- G Corrigan (Down)