THE two top teams go head to head to decide the destination of the Littlewoods Ireland National League title on Sunday and it’s a case of entering the lion’s den as Cork have to take on holders Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.
With the Kilkenny hurlers facing in the hurling final at the same venue the numerical support will be stacked against Cork but manager Paudie Murray has no problem facing Kilkenny on their own patch.
“Ah sure it’s grand. I have no real issues playing in Nowlan Park, in fact we have a good record there and it will be a challenge.
“It has been a while since Kilkenny played there and yes I suppose they will have the home support in for the end of the camogie game but sure it will be OK.”
Kilkenny will be determined to get the upper hand after Cork edged them out in the dying seconds of last year’s All-Ireland final as they were bidding to make it back to back titles and this is something Paudie is very aware of.
“They will be determined to win it, it is a final and of course we want to win but if we don’t we will come back and regroup and get ready for the Munster championship and then ultimately the All-Ireland championship which is our main focus.”
It’s a pairing that most would have predicted at the start of the campaign, Both came through their groups with little difficulty but Cork will be the first to admit they came into the league with little done, taking a one game at a time approach to it and doing enough to record victories over Galway, Wexford, Tipperary and Offaly.
They made it to the semi-final where they managed a four-point victory over Limerick.
“We had nothing done for the league and only got together the week before it started, we used the games to get match fit and blend in new players to our team and that has worked well. We are happy with our campaign and a win on Sunday would be nice but we won’t be getting carried away.”
Kilkenny topped their group, defeating Clare, Dublin, Waterford and Meath. They lost out to Limerick in a tough 1-14 to 1-9 battle but, like Cork, they will have relished the hard game at a time of the season when players are battling to get match fit.
Kilkenny also had a tough semi-final battle before getting the upper hand on Galway with four points to spare, so they like Cork are coming into this final having earned their place.
Cork, as they have for the last few seasons, have introduced new faces to their panel. Linda Collins has been a revelation since moving up from the Intermediate squad last season and has been a regular throughout the league campaign. She is doing exceptionally well slotting into the attack.
She grabbed the two goals against Limerick that helped Cork secure a place in the final and she has brought another vital ingredient to the Cork front line.
Aoife Murray captains the side this year and made a return to league action but has missed out a few games through a reoccurring injury and may not be ready to play on Sunday.
It’s was also good to see Gemma O’Connor back in league action and along with Orla Cotter and Ashling Thompson she will be one of the players Cork will look to on Sunday. Their experience is invaluable to a side that has a lot of young players but can still call on players such as the Mackey twins Katriona and Pamela and Laura Treacy.
Leanne O’Sullivan has continued to show well having won back a place in defence this season. Amy O’Connor is in good form up front but Julia White, who was out injured for most of last season but made a dramatic entrance to grab the winning score in the All-Ireland final, is carrying an injury and is also doubtful to start.
Paudie will wait to name his side until everybody has been given every chance to be available.
“We have a few injury worries but we will assess them in the next few day and see where we are at.”
Kilkenny are going for three in a row of league titles a feat last achieved by Wexford 2009 to 2001. Kilkenny last did this in 1987 when they went on to add three further titles since Ann Downey has made a return to management there has been resurgence but the defeat at the hands of Cork in last year’s All-Ireland final must still hurt.
Sunday is only a league final and neither side will get carried away but neither Paudie Murray nor Ann Downey will want to lose it. It’s a repeat of last year league final where Kilkenny ran out winners but after that Cork really dug in and got the upper hand in the one that really mattered.
Will this drive Kilkenny on to turn the tables? They enjoyed a 2-10 to 1-9 win over Galway thanks to goals from Aoife Doyle and Juliann Malone.
Like Cork, they will be focused on bigger things to come but on home turf, they will want to get the day off to a good start and bring home a unique double.
Aside from Sunday’s big game Paudie as always is looking ahead and thinking on his feet and he had a very interesting suggestion which he has already put to the Camogie Association.
“Páirc Uí Chaoimh would be superb for the All Ireland Senior semi-finals. These have been played in Kilkenny, Wexford and Thurles in the past and each time Cork have had no problems going to these venues. With such a magnificent stadium now available to them the chance is there to give the semi-finals huge profile and play them in the best stadium and Cork certainly deserves to host such huge profile games.”