AFTER winning four All-Irelands in five years between 2014 and 2018, the years since have felt extremely barren for Cork camogie, with Sunday’s All-Ireland final against Kilkenny being a wonderful opportunity to push Cork out to 29 titles in the roll of honour table.
If the Cork management and players are honest they will probably admit that this year’s draw was kind to them, as it put them on the opposite side to big hitters Kilkenny and Galway, the winners of the last two All-Ireland titles, all the way through to the final.
However, it might not have felt like that when they were three points down to an impressive Waterford outfit in the 46th minute of the All-Ireland semi-final two weeks ago. They may have gone into that game as hot favourites, but all bets were officially off now. They were on the brink — their season was on the line.
Cork manager Matthew Twomey will no doubt have been delighted with his side’s performance in the last quarter of that game, as they rallied to rattle off the last eight points of the game to emerge as winners by 0-15 to 0-10, as Cork’s extra experience and fitness levels came to the fore late on.
And while the late revival must be commended, both players and management alike will be under no illusions as to how they played that day. If they perform in Sunday’s All-Ireland final against Kilkenny in similar fashion to how the performed for the first three quarters of the Waterford game then they are probably going to be in big trouble, as this Kilkenny side would appear to be a level up from the Déise given their performances this season.
It is no great surprise, therefore, that the bookies make Kilkenny as slight favourites for Sunday.
Cork will have taken two huge positives from the manner in which they somehow discovered a route to victory in that semi-final. Waterford sharpshooter Beth Carton had been causing Cork loads of problems early on despite the fact that Cork had deployed Laura Treacy as a defensive sweeper and had earmarked Katie O’Mahony to ‘man-mark’ Waterford’s main attacking threat.
Once Treacy got switched onto Carton and Aisling Thompson came on to fulfil the free defensive role that attacking avenue got shut down for Waterford. This in-game switch will certainly have given them confidence in their ability to put out any fires in defence on Sunday.
The other area where Cork showed significant improvement is that they finally started getting quality ball into their shooters, after an extremely sloppy start. Early on in the game they struck five poor wides from speculative positions, and took 25 minutes to register their first score from Katrina Mackey.
It appeared as if Cork, as a whole, were playing too deep in the first half against Waterford, with their half-forward line dropping too far back. Against Kilkenny they cannot afford such a slow start and must get better ball into Mackey, Sorcha McCartan and Amy O’Connor inside, and much closer to the posts, from the onset.
In their semi-final against reigning champions Galway, Kilkenny had their goalkeeper Aoife Norris to thank, as she saved a Sarah Healy penalty as well as making a couple of other excellent stops. Cork will certainly take encouragement from the fact that Galway created so many goal scoring opportunities and will be hoping to do likewise – they just have to be more clinical in taking these chances if and when they arise.
Last September, Cork left Croke Park disappointed after a three-point defeat to Galway in the final when a late goal from Siobhan McGrath and two points from Orlaith McGrath painfully pushed victory out of Cork’s grasp.
That loss will certainly act as motivation on Sunday, as Cork will certainly not want to want to experience two All-Ireland final defeats on the trot.
Conversely, last year’s semi-final defeat to Cork by a single point will be on Kilkenny’s minds this week, as it denied them the chance to retain the title they had won in 2020.
Either way, pain is going to be experienced by one team or the other. Cork will be hoping that it is not them on this occasion, as they look to secure their first title since 2018.