WITH on the pitch activities on hold, it’s the time of year when we look back on the year.
To say 2018 has been a good one on the inter-county scene for Cork is certainly an understatement. A trophy-laden cabined is an indicator of just how good a year it has been on the playing fields, off the pitch as well the county board continued to spearhead their Castle Road development as they endeavoured to take the project towards its conclusion.
Despite a heavy fixture laden season at the local level, Cork camogie blossomed and grabbed all the headlines as the trophies kept rolling in. Cork became the first county to take senior, intermediate and minor All-Ireland titles in the same year.
When you add in a Division 2 National League title, and provincial honours at senior, intermediate, junior and U16 A, the year has really been one to look back at with huge satisfaction.
Personal honours came rolling in as well with Paudie Murray’s feat of leading the county to a double acknowledged as he was named the Camogie Association’s Manager of the Year.
There were seven All-Star awards with Aoife Murray, Pamela Mackey, Hannah Looney, Orla Cotter, Chloe Sigerson, Katrina Mackey and Gemma O’Connor all picked.
The same number of Soaring Star awards were won by the intermediates with Amy Lee, Sarah Harrington, Leah Weste, Jennifer Barry, Kaitlin Hickey, Saoirse McCarthy and Catriona Collins climbing the steps to the stage on a night when Cork were without a doubt the leading county.
The year got off to a good start as the seniors edged out Limerick, 2-17 to 2-13, in the league semi-final as they set up a final meeting with Kilkenny. On the day it was Cork who were on the wrong side of a one-point scoreline as Kilkenny got revenge for their defeat in the All-Ireland final a year earlier. You got the feeling this was only a warm-up and there would be bigger fish to fry.
Before championship got underway the Munster series saw Cork beat Waterford and Clare. And on the day when long-serving Orla Cotter walked up the aisle for her wedding, her team-mates were in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh facing Tipperary.
Aoife Murray became the first female to lift a trophy in the new stadium.
Championship action got underway on June 10 and with Wexford, Dublin, Tipperary, Meath and Offaly all defeated Cork were through to a semi-final meeting with Tipperary. Cork signalled they were in no mood to relinquish their title to defeat Tipperary 0-19 to 0-6.
For the third year in a row, it was to be Cork versus Kilkenny in the final!
Ann Downey and her charges were in confident mood as they faced down the champions and before the game even started the gauntlets were thrown down that this one was not going to be won easily. We had the comical situation of a huge group of Kilkenny players jostling and surrounding the Cork forwards before the ball was thrown in.
At one stage there were at least eight players standing in front of the Kilkenny keeper toe to toe before the linesman finally sorted it out and got them into the correct formation. This Liberty Insurance final was always going to be in your face stuff!
When the sides finally settled down Kilkenny were hugely defensive to stop the Cork attack and any kind of a running game.
Cork dominated the early stages despite Michelle Quilty opening the scoring giving Kilkenny an early lead, Chloe Sigerson and Orla Cotter edged Cork in front converting two frees and Cork were denied a certain goal when Linda Collins was foiled. Aoife Murray pointed the resulting penalty.
And when Cotter pointed a long-range effort Cork were three clear. Denise Gaule converted a free before Aoife Murray denied Kilkenny at the expense of a 45 which Gaule duly converted.
Cork stretched it to two with Chloe Sigerson and Katriona Mackey pointing but Denise Gaule pushed Kilkenny two in front with three pointed frees and one from play but it was Cork who finished the half stronger with two excellent Orla Cronin points and it was 0-8 each at the break.
The second half was tight, on four occasions the sides were level, puck counted, every free was vital and every ball so important. Cork hit the front with a Mackey point and it was level on four occasions through the next half hour as both sides dug deep.
Aoife Murray denied Katie Power with a brilliant save on 51 minutes and as Kilkenny threw everything at them the Cork defence stood firm.
Still, Kilkenny regained the lead. The final three minutes plus four of injury time was hectic!
Amy O’Connor tied it up with three minutes remaining and winning a free Chloe Sigerson landed a huge effort between the posts to give Cork the lead.
Yet with a minute on the stopwatch, Gaule leveled again. A draw looked on the cards but driven on by the huge heart they possess the champions were not giving up their title easily.
Once again they struck late tearing down field Orla Cotter won a free and confidently standing over what was possibly the most important shot of her playing career the Cork stalwart sent it sailing towards Hill 16.
With one hand on the O’Duffy Cup, they just needed to hold their composure and defending one last Kilkenny attack was thwarted as they retained their title by the narrowest of margins.
A classic it certainly was not and but that didn’t worry Cork! Champions for the 28th time.