IT’S down to the last two in the hunt for the Tesco All-Ireland U16 A championship title and old rivals Cork and Kilkenny will battle it out tomorrow for the crown in Birr at 4.30pm.
With no championship played in 2020 due to Covid, Cork go into this final as holder’s having taken the honours in 2019 when they breached a 16-year gap to take the trophy.
Kilkenny enjoyed a superb run from 2005 to 2008 as they made it four in a row and this will be the first final Kilkenny have reached since 2016 when they lost out to a Galway side who retained their title and went on to record four in a row.
Both Cork and Kilkenny have come through their respective campaigns as group winners. Kilkenny topped group one with a 6-11 to 1-4 victory over Wexford before being made work hard by Dublin to securing a 2-11 to 2-5 win.
Last weekend they overcame Tipperary in a tough encounter they lead from the throw-in but a strong rally saw Tipperary cut the deficit to a point but they weathered the storm and ran out 4-17 to 4-11 winners.
Manager Seamus Kelly has an experienced backroom panel that included Adrian Ronan, Tommy Wall, Brian Brophy, Ann Marie Hoyne, Seamus O’Brien, Kate Kelly, Aoife Lanigan and Mary Wall and with a panel of 37 players, they are determined to restore Kilkenny’s dominance at underage level.
They have a well-balanced side with Lauren Ronan Caoimhe Keher-Murtagh grabbing the vital goals last weekend, Julie Lennon, Rachel Dowling Ava Brett and Rose Kelly have also been to the fore on the score sheet whilst Ali Kennedy, Siofra Meegan and captain Sofia Kerr have been prominent as Kilkenny continued their march to the final.
The Cork management includes manager/coach Donie Daly (Youghal) and his selectors and backroom team are selector/coach John Moloney (Newtownshandrum) and Mossie O’Sullivan (Ballincollig). Goalkeeping coach is Michelle Gould (St Vincent’s) and strength and conditioning coach is Stephen O’Mahony, first aid are Colette O’Neill (Erin’s Own) and Roberta Crowley (Ballygarvan), with Darina Foley (Midleton) the county board liaison officer and they are equally as determined to retain the title.
Cork were very impressive last weekend as they brushed the challenge of Galway aside in superb fashion, from the throw in the result was never in doubt as Cork tore into the game and never allowed Galway settle. Strong in all areas they have an excellent goalkeeper in Jill Connaughton who denied Galway with four point-blank saves, her positioning and reading of the game is excellent and she commands her defence with huge authority.
Up front Emily O’Donoghue and the hard-working Fiona Twohig caused huge problems for the Galway defence and with Caoimhe Sheehan, Grainne Finn, Ava Fitzgerald and Sinead Hurley joining them on the score sheet Cork ran out 3-15 to 0-10 winners.
Cork manager Donie Daly is looking forward to the challenge Kilkenny will pose to his charges;
“The girls have done everything we have asked of them, they are well prepared and know what to expect from Kilkenny on Sunday. The girls have improved with every game and have played excellently in a range of weather conditions.
“We are particularly impressed with the composure being shown in defence but also our ability to punish mistakes. The level these girls are performing at, with just over eight weeks of collective training is actually astonishing. We would be happy with a team playing like this if we had them for 10 months.”