Kilkenny 2-10 Cork 1-11
CORK will wonder how they let this Liberty Insurance All Ireland senior semi-final slip from their grasp in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday, as last year's defeated finalists Kilkenny made it to the Christmas decider.
A whirlwind start saw Cork lead 1-3 to no score inside eight minutes of the throw-in as they took the game to the Cats in what developed into a superb contest. Piling on the pressure after a Chloe Sigerson long-range free on 58 seconds gave Cork the lead they took control early.
Sigerson and Orla Cronin were on target with points before Gemma O’Connor, lining out in her first championship game of the season after recovering ahead of schedule from a punctured lung, rattled the net with a pile-driver after Katriona Mackey had split the Kilkenny defence with a blistering solo run before offloading to O’Connor.
Kilkenny eventually opened their account on 11 minutes with Mary O’Connell and then Ann Dalton pointing. Mackey clipped over a great point as Cork regained control and at the first water break they led 1-4 to 0-3, O’Connell second point keeping them in touch.
Settling on the resumption, Kilkenny began to win frees and with Denise Gaule unerring they began chipped away at Cork's lead. It was 1-5 to 0-5 on 25 minutes, Orla Cronin tapping over a free, but Cork were struggling with Kilkenny’s intensity around the middle third at that stage.
Kilkenny hit the front with a superb Ann Dalton goal as she grabbed Gaule's long-range free turned and fired to the net. What a boost it was to the visitors, with three minutes to go to the break they were now a point ahead.
Ashling Thompson levelled but again Kilkenny responded, Gaule with two points in between a neat Sigerson effort: Kilkenny were 1-8 to 1-7 up at the half-time whistle.
We had an explosive start to the second half as Cronin equalised before Miriam Walsh hit the goal that ultimately proved to be the difference between the great rivals. Kilkenny won possession after Cronin’s score and after working the sliotar to Walsh she gave Amy Lee no chance.
Gaule pointed again on 40 minutes but remarkably that was Kilkenny’s only score for the next 21 minutes as Cork began to get a grip on possession without turning it into scores. It didn't help that they lost Pamela Mackey with an injury.
At the water break, Katriona Mackey split the posts on the run and when the impressive Ashling Thompson scored after 50 minutes, Cork looked the likely victors. They were hugely wasteful from here on, as they hit four wides in a row before the outstanding Sigerson hit her fourth score with four minutes of normal time remaining.
Just one down, Cork needed to be composed and clinical. Instead, they squandered some great chances, including a couple of sidelines, betrayed the great work the defence was doing at holding the Cats at bay.
Unfortunately, panic began to set in as the clock ticked toward 60 minutes when Cork only needed a point to at least force extra time.
With four minutes added time announced, Gaule broke Kilkenny's duck and edged them two points ahead.
That left Cork chasing a goal but from the puck-out, the Rebels couldn't engineer a worthwhile chance. Kilkenny stood firm at the back and when the whistle sounded, they were after securing a berth in the All-Ireland next month.
Remarkably, one score from play in the second half was enough to see Kilkenny through.
D Gaule 0-7 (0-6 f), A Dalton 1-1, M Walsh 1-0, M O’Connell 0-2
C Sigerson 0-4 (0-1 f), O Cronin 0-3 f, G O’Connor 1-0, A Thompson, K Mackey 0-2 each.
A Norris; G Walsh, C Dormer, M Teehan; C Phelan, M Farrell, D Tobin; A Farrell, A Dalton; A Doyle, L Murphy, D Gaule; K Nolan, M Walsh, M O’Connell.
S Fitzgerald for L Murphy (h-t); N Deely for Teehan (49); K Doyle for O’Connell (56).
A Lee; M Cahalane, L Treacy, L Coppinger; H Looney, P Mackey, L Hayes; A Thompson, K Mackey; A O’Connor, O Cronin, C Sigerson; L Collins, G O’Connor, S McCarthy.
N O’Callaghan for P Mackey (44, inj); C Healy for Collins (49); J White for McCarthy (54).
O Elliot (Antrim).