IT ain’t over 'til it's over.
After a scintillating first half by Cork and a brilliantly executed goal within a minute of the second half, we all felt we were seeing the start of Cork’s resurgence against their bogey team of the past two seasons. This was a top-class league final, the top two teams in the country looking to get a psychological advantage over the other as well as taking the first silverware of the season.
Cork could do no wrong in the opening half. They didn’t give Galway an inch, in their face every time they had possession.
Cork’s tracking back was excellent, dispossessing Galway several times. Amy O’Connor and Ashling Thompson’s work on 19 minutes where they ran the length of the pitch to dispossess and win a great free, epitomised Cork’s intent.
It's hard to pinpoint positions as Cork’s players seem to be given a freedom to play at will and oh how they seem to be enjoying it. Laura Hayes and Saoirse McCarthy were outstanding, named in the wing-back slots but both playing attacking roles, with Galway finding it almost impossible to manage.
McCarthy played for the most part on the right while Hayes played a more left midfield role, McCarthy’s lengthy strides up the flank causing havoc. Cork's roaming game all over the pitch was hard to handle as they showed no fear and took the game to the All-Ireland champions.
Galway were winning a fair share of possession but long diagonal balls into a Cork defence that had numerical advantage were wasted as Laura Treacy, Libby Coppinger and Meabh Cahalane swept up. Three balls fell short into the hands of Amy Lee as Galway’s game plan wasn’t working for them.
Cork on the other hand were in full flight. The game was played at a great pace. Ashling Thompson’s positioning and long-range points, three in that opening half, were inspiring. Hayes and McCarthy (2) scored three between them with Fiona Keating (2), Katrina Mackey and Chloe Sigerson (f) giving Cork a three-point lead. Ailish O’Reilly was the only Galway forward causing problems at that point, with three from play.
Cork were pumped running into the tunnel at halftime.
When Laura Hayes, Katrina Mackey and Amy O’Connor combined to score a brilliant goal to give Cork a six-point lead right at the start of that second half, it looked like it would lift the team to greater heights.
Not so. They faded from the game. Work-rate dropped, frees conceded, misplaced passes and Galway got back into it.
But the key reason Galway turned this game around was their bench. Carrie Dolan, introduced on 38 minutes changed the course of this final. Galway brought on three substitutes before the game went into additional time, Dolan, Catherine Finnerty and Sabina Rabbitte, daughter of legendary Galway hurler, Joe.
They scored 2-5 between them in 25 minutes. Cork’s bench however didn’t have the same impact. That was always going to be a concern for Cork. The contrast in experience between both benches is telling.
Once Galway’s confidence was up their flair came more to the surface. With the game level at 1-11, Ailish O’Reilly won possession again. Despite Carrie Dolan being tightly marked, she trusted that she’d beat Libby Coppinger and gave her the high ball. She didn’t disappoint, catching, shaking off Libby and billowing the net and with-it Galway took the lead, one they never relinquished.
Cork’s half-back line and midfield tired with Galway now winning the majority of possession and defensively they also had the upper hand on Cork’s attack. After their goal, Cork scored just one further point until Mackey converted a free on sixty minutes.
There were fragments of last September’s All Ireland final when Cork scored a brilliant goal and went three up but rather than it driving them on, it spurred Galway, who replied with 1-2.
It’s Galway’s fifth win on the trot over Cork. They’ll take huge belief from this again.
It’s a disappointing defeat, there’s no doubt about that. Cork however will regroup, focus on that opening half and the so many things that went right.
They have Hannah Looney and Orla Cronin to come back into their panel. Sorcha McCartan was a loss to injury; her presence may have added something in that second half. This was Fiona Keating’s first league outing after missing the campaign due to injury.
There were concerns that if Galway went one on one in attack with Cork that they could cause damage. That came to pass with Ailish O’Reilly. Their lethal corner-forward Siobhan McGrath was substituted late on in a rare off day for her.
I was surprised to see Chloe Sigerson taken off. In general play, yes maybe she wasn’t’ firing on all cylinders but her long-range free-taking was needed.
Cork were three points down just after Chloe left the pitch and Cork won a free that was out of Mackey’s reach but within Chloe’s. Galway tapped on the next two and Cork had nothing left in the tank.