AFTER the camogie league final in April, Kilkenny manager Ann Downey was clearly delighted with her side’s narrow win but she didn’t want to let the moment pass without having her say on Cork’s attitude after the final whistle.
Downey expressed disappointment at Cork’s decision to undertake their warm-down while Meighan Farrell was being presented with the trophy. The Cork players continued their warm-down as Farrell delivered her acceptance speech at the Gaelic Grounds.
A simmering rivalry had clearly been brewing for a while. That rivalry first made headlines last September when Kilkenny’s Collette Dormer and Cork’s Hannah Looney engaged in a bout of shoving during the pre-match handshake.
“It just doesn’t happen, to be quite honest,” was Ann Downey’s response on KCLR when asked about Cork’s actions during the presentation.
“We can’t control what the Cork people will do or what the Cork players will do. You wouldn’t want to see it happening too often, to be honest. We just hope that our own team would always show respect to the opposition. I think they have done that.”
However, Cork manager, Paudie Murray, responded the following day by claiming that there is no substance to the storyline about disrespect shown towards the winners. Murray firmly believed his players were gracious in defeat and acted accordingly throughout the post-match formalities.
“To be honest, I don’t know where it’s coming from,” he said. “One thing that we always say to our players is you shake hands with your opponent and your team-mate after the game. It was certainly done. I know I came into the middle of the field and all our players congratulated their opponents.
“We were in a circle in the middle of the field, granted the PA system wasn’t great there so it was very difficult to understand or hear any of the speeches, but I don’t know where it is coming from. It’s from someone that has very little to do on a Monday morning.”
There is clearly a real edge now between these groups as they get ready to meet in Sunday’s All-Ireland final again. That was especially evident when the sides met in a regular league meeting in early April, prior to the league final.
Neither side needed the win to advance to the semi-finals but that didn’t matter. Only one point separated the teams at the final whistle in Dunmore.
“It didn’t diminish the rivalry and bite that exists when Cork and Kilkenny meet,” wrote Linda Mellerick in her Evening Echo match report afterwards. “Cork held firm to record an important win, regardless of what the table already said.”
The Cork-Kilkenny rivalry always meant something but it evaporated during the late nineties and noughties as Kilkenny slipped in the rankings. But it’s firmly back now.
Historically, there has always been an edge to the rivalry, especially from a Cork perspective, primarily because they always struggled to beat Kilkenny. Despite joint-topping the roll of honour with 26 titles, Cork only managed to beat Kilkenny in four of those finals.
On the other hand, of Kilkenny’s 13 titles, nine were won in finals against Cork. When Kilkenny won seven-in-a-row between 1985-’91, they defeated Cork in four of those deciders.
When Cork finally defeated Kilkenny in the 1995 final for the first time in six final meetings over the previous 20 years, it was the sweetest victory Cork camogie had ever tasted. Cork looked dead and buried with 10 minutes remaining but they charged back and a goal by Mellerick with only 30 seconds of normal time remaining secured the win.
“Words cannot describe what it is like beating Kilkenny in a final,” said Mellerick afterwards.
Kilkenny went into decline afterwards but that 1995 game also ended a remarkable sequence of Cork-Kilkenny camogie dominance. Between 1970 and 1995, the two shared 23 of the 26 titles of that period.
When RTÉ first started showing highlights of camogie finals in the 1980s, Cork and Kilkenny always seemed to be the only two counties competing, such was their dominance.
Some of those finals created iconic moments. Kilkenny’s second goal in the 1989 final was one of the most famous scored in Croke Park, for reasons other than just the green flag. Angela Downey scored without her hurley, after losing her skirt, when Liz O’Neill’s desperation tackle removed some of Downey’s clothing.
The footage and photographs were the subject of comment and some controversy pertaining to the coverage of women’s sport. Speaking of the incident 20 years later Angela Downey said: “the only time I ever made the front page of the Irish Times was because I had lost my skirt.”
On the same afternoon, Cork tried a tactical innovation with a sweeper, long before the term became so popular in hurling or camogie.
The relationship between the counties changed dramatically after Kilkenny went into decline at senior level. On the other hand, it was still highly active at underage level, which Kilkenny dominated.
The All-Ireland minor camogie championship was only set up in 2006, where previously the U16 grade was considered ‘minor’. Cork have never won the competition while Kilkenny have dominated, winning six titles. At U16, Kilkenny captured four-in-a-row from 2005 to 2008, beating Cork in three of those deciders.
Those games helped hone the rivalry as many of those players met at senior level but the edge has really been sharpened in recent years, with Sunday being the sides' third final meeting in four seasons.
A win on Sunday would see Cork overtake Dublin at the top of the roll of honour but that won’t be on Cork’s minds entering the game. They just want to beat Kilkenny, as badly as any Cork team have before.
And, given the heartbreak Cork often endured at the hands of Kilkenny in the past, that is saying something.