GALWAY thoroughly deserved their victory on Saturday, of that there can be no doubt.
They were a different team to the side which took to Semple Stadium for the quarter-final. I mentioned in my preview that they would bring a different approach to playing the All-Ireland champions so Cork would also need the right approach on the day.
Galway had it. Cork didn’t.
It was a day when Cork were flat. Too many players just didn’t perform. They couldn’t shake Galway’s intensity. It happens and when it does it’s the hardest of defeats to take.
Cork’s short-passing game is great when it works but when it breaks down, you’re left screaming for more direct play. I had my doubts about it a couple of times during the year. When Waterford worked hard against Cork, they put them under huge pressure, often turning them over or forcing passes to go astray.
It happened again here. Trying to create open space up front but slowing the play out of defence was a contradiction. You might get one chance to gain a yard on your defender but they’re then on your shoulder.
On the day it works it looks impressive. It didn’t work on Saturday. Galway had their homework done and they continued the intensity that they had in the last 15 minutes of the quarter-final.
We knew that Galway would bring their ‘A’ game from the outset. The question was would they maintain it. When Cork went three ahead in the first half it was a different Galway side this time around.
Instead of dropping their heads they picked off some lovely long-distance points, something Cork failed to do with the wind behind them in the second half. This Galway side had a different mindset.
They were level again within four minutes and led by two minutes later. They were winning almost every ball around the middle third. Aoife Donohue and Catriona Cormican had three points between them by the 23rd minute.
Galway attacked from the outset, had three in a row of wides after 11 minutes. It didn’t deter them. They were winning a lot of Cork’s puck-outs. One such Cork puck-out won around the middle of the park, where Cork Struggled, led to a Galway penalty on 12 minutes.
Surprisingly it was given to 18-year-old Sarah Healy. With their typical penalty-taker, the injured Rebecca Hennelly on the bench, Sarah stepped up. It was struck well but blocked on the line by Gemma O’Connor and Cork won a free out.
Galway won almost every ruck and every breaking ball. They attacked and attacked and attacked. Apart from Julia’s Whites’ goal on 18 minutes, Cork never created another opportunity albeit Sarah Healy did make a very alert save off the line on 40 minutes from a long Chloe Sigerson free. It was similar to the one which got past her in the quarter-final.
Niamh Kilkenny was outstanding. Driving forward all day, she hit three great points in the opening half and got on a huge amount of ball. Aoife Donoghue was equally effective, her consistency over Galway’s past two games very influential. A change around the middle was required by Cork.
Cork have been very happy at half time. They’d have thought that having not played particularly well and coming back out with a really strong wind at their backs, they only trailed by a point. What they possibly didn’t expect was Galway maintaining their intensity and they themselves failing to truly get out of the traps.
Orla Cronin pointed on 36 minutes and it took Cork until the 48th to score again, an Orla Cotter free. In fact, Cork scored just four points in the second half compared with the 10 Galway scored with the wind in the first.
Trailing by two entering the final quarter two wides on the trot from Cork added to their frustration and put a pep in the step of Galway.
Galway didn’t go on the defensive as many teams tend to do against Cork. They continued to take the game to them and had them on the backfoot. Niamh Hannify who missed the quarter-final through injury made a couple of strong runs and gave Galway a crucial two-point advantage on sixty minutes.
I still thought with five minutes remaining on Saturday that we’d win the game. You expect that when you’re from Cork and going for three All Ireland’s in a row. It’s happened this year where Cork failed to ignite but always pulled away.
It didn’t happen on Saturday because Galway didn’t let them and it’s the first time all year that Cork were really challenged. The Waterford game stood massively to Galway.
Cork looked very sharp at training last week. It just didn’t happen for them on the day. They’ll feel it more than anyone. They have given us some tremendous moments over the past few years. This game doesn’t change the great team they are.
Unfortunately, it was the one where they lost their crown.