Linda Mellerick on the great Cork v Galway camogie rivalry of the late '90s

The Tribe won their first senior All-Ireland in 1996 but the Rebels would have their revenge
Linda Mellerick on the great Cork v Galway camogie rivalry of the late '90s

Martina Harkin, Galway, in action against Margaret Finn, Cork, in the 1996 All-Ireland camogie final. Picture Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

LAST Sunday week the Galway 1996 jubilee team were honoured in Croke Park and got a rousing reception.

Up in the stand, I vividly recalled the day. The All-Ireland title that was Cork’s for sure!

Cork had dismissed the stranglehold Kilkenny had over us for seven years and now Cork were going to dominate.

Weren’t they..? We played second fiddle to a great Galway side that day that won their first All-Ireland senior title.

Did I begrudge them? Of course, at the time as our hearts were broken.

But we ended up having some incredible battles over the following two years, regaining and then retaining the titles in 1997 and 1998.

There are counties I wouldn’t even consider applauding or putting ink on paper to congratulate on their pitch walk two weeks ago, but Galway are different. They always were and remain a great bunch of players and people.

There was never animosity in our rivalry. And Tony Ward, their manager was and is the ultimate gentleman.

Cork, victorious in 1995, missed out on our jubilee year at Croke Park last year due to Covid.

We had the night booked for this year as we expected a double celebration with Galway but when the official lunch still wasn’t going ahead, we choose to wait, and we’ll celebrate our 1995 and 1997 victories together next year, please God.

Therese O'Callaghan battling Pamela Nevin And Dympna Maher Of Galway.
Therese O'Callaghan battling Pamela Nevin And Dympna Maher Of Galway.

The Connacht Tribune reported after the 1996 final. (We know they’re bias of course).

'Two goals either side of half time from Denise Gilligan decided the outcome of the final.

'When midfielder Sharon Glynn pointed from a free in the first minute of the final, the score was not recorded. Galway manager Tony Ward had clarified with referee Áine Derham that the point stood. The players were unaware that the score was actually closer than displayed.

'Shortly after scoring, Glynn took a blow to the head which affected her for long periods, particularly in the opening half, with her accuracy deserting her. Her long pucks from midfield frequently went wide, and Galway had five wides in the opening 30 minutes.

'Cork edged ahead 0-5 to 0-4 by the 20th minute, with all their scores coming from frees as Lynn Dunlea and Fiona O’Driscoll displayed their accuracy, and they must have thought the game was theirs for the taking when Dunlea displayed remarkable persistence in shaking off the attentions of Olive Costello to put her side ahead 1-7 to 0-4.

'Cork led by three points at half time. It would have been six had not Denise Gilligan scored the first of her two goals just beforehand.

'Gilligan received from Sharon Glynn for the second of her two goals at the start of the second half. Two minutes later she was involved again in the move that saw the winner’s edge in front when she found Martina Harkin. Kathleen Costine (RIP) saved but Harkin retained her composure to score Galway’s third goal.

'Galway now led by 3-6 to 1-9. They set about consolidating their position, Sharon Glynn pointed from a 30.

'A further goal from Dympna Maher, who was another to display remarkable coolness under pressure, made the Cork task that much more difficult, although they still had 18 minutes to retrieve their title.

'Cork brought it back to a two-point margin, they spurned some easy point chances in search of a goal. Galway won their first All-Ireland in their tenth final appearance. It finished 4-8 to 1-15.'

Galway captain Imelda Hobbins said: “I knew that if we were below six points behind them at the break that we would win the All Ireland. Those goals just after the break were an almighty boost for us.

Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

Denise Gilligan said: “I can’t believe it. I thought the final whistle would never go. When Cork were ahead, we knew we had it all to play for. But in the second half we got in front of the backs and that was the difference. We were also playing the ball in low to the forwards.”

Denise later went to live in London and played for Tara in the All-Ireland Junior club final of 2011,15 years after her two goal All Ireland winning performance.

Cork were never reaching the stars in 1996 and we stumbled over our semi-final win over Kilkenny. Galway deserved their win and I fully believe that had they not beaten us in the ’96 final they would have caught us in one of the other two.

The heartbreak of ’96 drove all of us wearing the red and white to not let it happen again. 1997 we won 0-15 to 2-5 and in 1998 victorious again, 2-13 to 0-15, so there was nothing between us during the trilogy.

There was no begrudgery two weeks ago. A great team and great champions.

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