Bullish Cronin eyes treble after taming kittens
IT'S not often that hurley-wielding Cats lose one final, let alone two in the same afternoon at Croke Park, but their women could certainly have no quibbles yesterday.
Their young side came up considerably short against the defending All-Ireland senior camogie champions who proved their mettle yet again by racking up a phenomenal fifth title from eight consecutive finals.
And as the final whistle sounded the question was inevitably posed: can the Rebelettes can now go on to clinch the three-in-a-row which has always eluded them, most recently in 2007?
To her credit, manager Denise Cronin didn't dodge the question or pretend that it won't be next on their agenda.
"If we'd lost one today you might have seen a lot of players retire but I think the push will be on for the three in-a-row and they know what it takes to win it," she said.
"Whether I'm there or not, that team should win one," she stressed proudly. "They're an amazing bunch of girls and, if you keep slotting (new) people in, I think they will do it."
Cronin's confidence is well-placed because her side won yesterday without playing all that well.
Dual superstar Briege Corkery -- who will be a huge loss to the county next year as she's taking time out to travel -- was below her usual stratospheric standard.
Apart from Gemma O'Connor, their forwards really never cut loose in a match in which both sides' full-back lines starred and it was actually the Kittens who had all of the game's goal chances.
Yet despite those chances, and a brave, nerveless start which actually saw them lead in the 16th minute, Kilkenny's team of rookie finalists ultimately couldn't match Cork's superior stamina, strength and guile.
Not for the first time the bedrock of Cork's latest victory was their defence, where All Star goalkeeper Aoife Murray, Cathriona Foley, Rena Buckley, Mary O'Connor and Sara Hayes (just a week back from her honeymoon!) were outstanding during several periods of heavy aerial bombardment, mostly engineered by excellent Kilkenny captain Ann Dalton.
At times in the second half it was like 'women against girls' which, in many cases, was true as Ann Downey's young side were contesting their first final in eight years and 'giving away' plenty of pounds in experience and nous.
Within 16 minutes, she had introduced schoolgirl Aisling Duffy (17) to a forward line that already included four teenagers but, yesterday, burgeoning stars like Katie Power, Edwina Keane and Denise Gaule (all 18) couldn't filch even a point between them.
Kilkenny's only two points from play came before half-time and they only scored twice in the second half.
In contrast, five of Cork's starting forwards scored and 17-year-old Katriona Mackey (whose twin is also on the panel) scored off the bench which also yielded the highly decorated Emer Dillon. After being held level for the first quarter Cork noticeably then surged four points clear and went in three points up (0-8 to 0-5) at half-time.
Yet, as ever, they had All Star 'keeper Murray to thank for never veering into the danger-zone.
The Cloughduv star was alert, after just 16 minutes, to a long-range shot from Aoife Neary and subsequently made three crucial second-half stops.
Her second save, blocking a dangerous overhead ball on the line after 42 minutes, was her most important because a goal at that stage could have given Kilkenny new oxygen.
Neary also had goal on her mind when she stepped up to a 20m free in the fourth quarter which Corkery parried and from there Cork essentially suffocated them with their ruthless defensive efficiency and superior teamwork.
It may not have been a showstopper like the 2007 and '08 finals but Cork showed they can win any way; grinding out this victory with unfussy graft and selfless teamwork, exemplified by the likes of Foley and Gemma O'Connor, who showed massive leadership up front when all around her were being held.
"The way Kilkenny play they hold their positions while we tend to drift out and sometimes it could be six against our three and we tried to work on that with low ball to our half-fowards the second-half," manager Cronin revealed.
"We said if there's an opportunity just take your scores, points could win this game," she added, which certainly proved prophetic.
Kilkenny's full-back line of Leanne Fennelly, Catherine Doherty and Jacqui Frisby deserved huge credit for holding the Cork full-forwards to just two points from play and Amy Butler had a cracking tussle with Gemma O'Connor.
But as beaten manager Downey said: "you can't buy experience".
"I'd be happy with our backs, they worked really hard and we just didn't get the rub of the green," she said.
"Cork upped it a notch in the second half and we weren't able to match them for pace, and when we did get the few chances we weren't able to take them," she added.
"I'm delighted that the girls didn't let themselves down but disappointed that we didn't win because we had high hopes.
"But on the day I think it was the experience that helped them. They closed us down every chance we got in the second half and were hunting in packs.
"But that's experience and we've to go back and build on today. We've a very young team and they've got that experience now and we'll be back next year," she vowed.
Scorers -- Cork: R Moloney 0-7 (6f), G O'Connor 0-3, E O'Sullivan 0-2, U O'Donoghue, E O'Farrell and K Mackey 0-1 each. Kilkenny: A Neary 0-5 (1 '45), A Dalton, M Quilty 0-1 each.
Cork -- A Murray 9; J O'Callaghan 7, C Foley 9, R Buckley 8; J Duffy 7, M O'Connor 9, S Hayes 8; B Corkery 7, O Cotter 7; E O'Sullivan 8, G O'Connor 8, U O'Donoghue 7; S Burns 6, E O'Farrell 6, R Moloney 7. Subs: K Mackey 8 for O'Farrell (37), E Dillon 8 for O'Donoghue (47), A O'Regan (capt) for Burns (58), L O'Connell for O'Callaghan (60).
Kilkenny -- C Ryan 8; L Fennelly 8, C Doherty 8, J Frisby 8; L Lyng 6, A Butler 7, E Aylward 6; C Dormer 6, A Dalton (capt) 9; T Muldowney 6, K Power 8, E Keane 7; M Quilty 7, D Gaule 6, A Neary 6. Subs: A Dunphy 7 for Muldowney (16), D Delaney 7 for Lyng (26), M O'Connor 7 for Quilty (50), K Fennelly for Dormer (57).
Ref -- U Kearney (Armagh).