CORK go in search of a first All-Ireland senior camogie title in three years at Croke Park on Sunday knowing that it will take a monumental 60-minute performance to brush aside the difficult challenge that is likely to come from 2019 champions, Galway.
This is the seventh meeting of Cork and Galway in the camogie final since 1993, with the 4-8 to 1-15 Galway win in 1995 being their sole decider win in this period over Cork. For the record Cork’s wins came in 1993, 1997, 1998, 2008 and 2015.
It is their first meeting in a final since 2015, when an Aisling Thompson led Cork side triumphed on a scoreline of 1-13 to 0-9, although it has to be acknowledged that Galway are a different animal six years later. They were beaten in last year’s All-Ireland final, when they went down by three points to a battling Kilkenny side, so their motivation levels are bound to be through the roof on Sunday, as they look to win back the title they won by beating Kilkenny by 3-14 to 0-17 back in 2019.
Eleven of the Galway side that started the 1-13 to 0-12 semi-final victory over Tipperary were on the starting side that won the All-Ireland back in 2019, so they are clearly a very settled unit at present. And if anything they look even stronger now given that Siobhán and Orlaith McGrath, who did not feature back in 2019, are now spearheading the Tribeswomen’s attack, with them running at their markers at every given opportunity.
Cork certainly have plenty of experience dotted throughout their side, but it must be accepted that there has been more of a turnover of players in their ranks in the last few years than up in Galway.
Altogether there are eight survivors from the last Cork side to win an All-Ireland when they defeated Kilkenny by 0-14 to 0-13 back in 2018. They are Pamela Mackey, Libby Coppinger, Chloe Sigerson, Ashling Thompson, Amy O’Connor, Orla Cronin (unfortunately suspended), Katrina Mackey and Hannah Looney, while captain Linda Collins, off the bench, makes it nine.
While this shows that Paudie Murray has a great deal of experience to call upon, it also tells us that there has been a significant turnover in the intervening three years, and especially so in defence where Pamela Mackey and Libby Coppinger are the sole survivors. In saying that this young rearguard only shipped 1-4 in the semi-final, despite huge pressure from Kilkenny at times, so at present there is little sign that this is a weak point of this Cork team.
It is interesting to note that, while Cork have won four of the last seven titles, that only one of their All-Ireland winning captains will be in action on Sunday, in the form of midfielder Ashling Thompson, as Anna Geary, Rena Buckley and Aoife Murray are all now retired. This is a quick illustration of the experience drain from the Cork set-up, although ultimately Sunday must be seen as an opportunity for the newer members of this side to make their own history and write their own names into the rich annals of Cork camogie history.
Of course, inevitably the build-up to the decider is going to be dominated by the suspension of key centre-forward Orla Cronin, after her sending off against the Cats. Given she struck six of Cork’s 15 points on the day will be a huge loss.
The red card meant that Cork had to win the hard way, down to 14 players for those crucial last few championship minutes, and indeed, it was fitting that it was captain Linda Collins, sprung from the bench, who landed the winning score three minutes into injury time.
Collins can come straight in, although Cronin's free-taking is hard to replace. Katrina Mackey, who scored six frees earlier in the championship against Dublin, and three against Down, is well able to deputise, however.
It is also worth noting that Cork’s key link player in midfield Chloe Sigerson has considerable experience in this regard, as she slotted three placed balls in the 2018 All-Ireland triumph, while this year in the group stage of the competition she scored three and two frees against Dublin and Waterford respectively.
This one could well go right down to the wire, but Cork’s miserly young defence, which has shipped an average of just under 15 points a game in the championship to date should be strong enough to propel the Rebels to a record 29th All-Ireland senior camogie title on Sunday.