IT was a case of deja vu for Cork at a barren Croke Park on Sunday afternoon when a powerful second-half performance from Dublin once again put paid to the Leesiders’ quest to regain the All-Ireland senior ladies football championship title.
When the two counties met at the semi-final stage of last year’s competition, Ephie Fitzgerald’s charges were deadlocked at 0-7 apiece during the interval and were more than hopeful of knocking the Sky Blues off their lofty perch. However, Mick Bohan’s capital outfit pushed on after the resumption and eventually claimed an emphatic 2-11 to 0-11 victory.
In their latest meeting at GAA HQ, Cork led 1-3 to 0-3 at the midway point only to be outscored 1-7 to 0-2 in the closing half-hour as Dublin got their hands on the Brendan Martin Cup for the fourth year in succession.
Having held the Indian sign over them for so long - defeating them in three consecutive finals from 2014-2016 - the Rebelettes are now finding the Blues to be a tough nut to crack. They are not the only ones, of course, and Dublin are now unbeaten in 21 championship games under the stewardship of Mick Bohan.
His counterpart Fitzgerald spoke afterwards about how Cork are still ‘a work in progress’. This was in evidence the longer the play progressed and the Leesiders will enter 2021 as the hunters rather than the hunted in the top-tier of ladies football.
In comparison to the open nature of the intermediate decider between Meath and Westmeath that preceded this encounter, this was more of a tactical affair. Both sides were willing to funnel bodies back inside their own ’45’ to close down space on the opposition attack.
Although there was nothing to match the four goals that were accrued in the opening six minutes of the all-Leinster showdown in the second-tier decider, there was considerable drama in the early exchanges of this tantalising clash.
In preparing for this game, the Dublin defence would have zoned in on the threat of the O’Sullivan sisters, Ciara and Doireann. This was perfectly understandable, given their past exploits against the Metropolitans at the business end of the championship.
They linked up to excellent effect in the second minute, with Doireann ultimately releasing her namesake Áine Terry O’Sullivan for an unstoppable finish past helpless Dublin netminder Ciara Trant.
This early major unsettled the champions and in addition to a number of missed opportunities at the canal end, they were turned over in possession on several occasions by a ravenous Cork rearguard. Martina O’Brien breathed a sigh of relief when Healy pulled a shot agonisingly wide at the tail end of the first quarter, but the 11-time champions full merited their three-point advantage.
Shauna Kelly was keeping close tabs on Lyndsey Davey and the withdrawal of Dublin captain Sinead Aherne at the break looked set to give Cork an extra psychological edge.
Yet the game quickly unravelled for them and by the time Ciara O’Sullivan posted their next score on 44 minutes, the Jackies had assumed full control of the proceedings. A Carla Rowe penalty came as a hammer blow to Cork’s chances of success and they never truly recovered from that point onwards.
The decision by the Dublin management to switch Sinead Goldrick out to the wing in the second half paid rich dividends and her probing runs provided a strong platform for their eventual triumph.
To Cork’s credit, their commitment to the cause couldn’t be faulted and another Finn free did reduce the gap to two points (1-7 to 1-5) with just nine minutes remaining.
Their bid for glory may have fallen short in the end, but with eight of their starting line-up aged 25 or younger, they will remain one of the principal challengers to Dublin’s throne when the championship action resumes in 2021.