WHAT a tremendous game of end-to-end hurling!
It had everything, and while the result didn’t go the way we wanted, we can have no complaints. Maybe the romantic side of Croke Park was there this time for Galway, maybe their jubilee team taking to the field at half time spurred them on.
Whatever the reason, Galway are the All-Ireland champions for the fourth time.
I thought we had it when Katriona Mackey billowed the net on 48 minutes to give Cork a three-point lead. They scored 1-1 immediately after the water break. You could see the intent was there as they dropped their bottles faster than Galway and flew back out onto the pitch.
Traditionally Cork finish stronger.
But credit Galway. So many times, we have criticised their ability to close out big games.
The composure with which Siobhan McGrath hit the net eight minutes after Cork goaled spoke volumes about how they went about their business all afternoon. If Cork had tapped on another point and gone four up, would Galway’s heads have dropped? Maybe, but that’s irrelevant now as Galway struck 1-2.
The game was played at a frenzied pace from the outset. Block after block after block came in from both sides.
Galway took the game to Cork, and were four points up by five minutes. Massive hunting in packs by Galway forced turnovers. The middle third was packed, with both sets of half-forwards playing deep.
It seemed as if that was working best for Galway with long, excellent diagonal balls into the corners where the running of Ailish O’Reilly and Siobhan McGrath caused problems.
Galway dictated the early pace, but Cork got to grips with it 10 minutes in. Hannah Looney and Ashling Thompson emerged at midfield with hard work, resounding runs, frees won, and three points between them. Behind them Laura Hayes, Laura Treacy, and Saoirse McCarthy were breaking ball as puck-outs rained down on them and the midfield duo dropped back to pick up the rebounds.
I thought Galway’s puck-outs could be their demise at times, landing them directly on Cork’s half-back line. They were risky, but even though they weren’t the cleanest of takes, Galway did win a number of the breaks.
And they stuck with them, trying to get the ball in as fast as possible to their full-forward line, where a couple of them were in the running for Player of the Match.
Yet Cork’s full-back line was doing very well, Libby Coppinger in particular playing a stormer. Galway’s full-back line was also doing brilliantly on Cork’s inside three.
Both lines succeeded in snuffing out goal threats. Cork shot four wides versus two for Galway in that opening half, and Galway were up a point. The stats show that the flicks and blocks from both defences were brilliant.
Cork had 26 shots and scored 13 times, Galway had 22 shots and scored 16.
Cork lost most of their possession in the middle third — hardly surprising as that’s where most of the 30 players hung out. They lost 16 attacks up front, testament to brilliant defensive work by Galway. Cork’s defence was equally impressive, losing just two possessions and dispossessing Galway 17 times with Galway also losing 15 possessions in the middle.
Hard work was the order of the day from both sides. In the opening half, the small breaks were going Galway’s way. They were, however, giving away poor possession with weak sideline cuts.
All the talk before the game was about the Orla Cronin ‘stay’ on her three-match suspension. The debate around that is for another day. We all want to see the best players in All-Ireland finals, and we got that. Galway wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
As Galway stalwart Frank Kearney said to me before the game: “When we beat ye, we don’t want ye having any excuses”.
Well, we have none. And one must credit Galway for not letting all the off-field debates affect them.
They never panicked, and even when Linda Collins entered the fray, Galway weren’t fazed. Derval Higgins calmly strolled over and picked her up.
Cork had nine wides though, to Galway’s four. They’ll regret those.
But the match-ups worked for Galway. Shauna Healy picked up Amy O’Connor, Sarah Dervan on Orla Cronin, Dervla Higgins on Katrina Mackey, and Catriona Cormican on Chloe Sigerson. These were tremendous battles, but one would have to say that Galway came out the strongest.
Every team talks about the collective. It was a brilliant Galway performance from 1 to 15, and the three subs that came on. When Carrie Dolan, who was accurate from frees, was withdrawn on 51 minutes and Ailish O’Reilly stepped in to take a crucial free a minute later, had she missed, Galway’s management would have been highly criticised. O’Reilly nailed it.
The goal followed and Orlaith McGrath’s two points finished the job for Galway in style.