Christy O'Connor: Cork must be prepared for a Kilkenny onslaught at Croker

Cats have suffered at the hands of Cork in All-Ireland finals and will want their chance to exact revenge on Sunday
Christy O'Connor: Cork must be prepared for a Kilkenny onslaught at Croker

Meabh Cahalane of Cork in action against Grace Walsh and Mary O'Connell of Kilkenny at Croke Park last season. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

WHEN Kilkenny met Galway in the 2020 All-Ireland camogie final, it was a game that Kilkenny just could not lose, a result they refused to let go again.

They entered an empty Croke Park on that mid-December evening with history and a world of pain from the previous three years, but despite the apocalyptic potential of losing a fourth successive final, Kilkenny played with an intent and an insistence that, this time, it would be different.

It was. The pain of the previous three years was the poison in their bite, the venom in their sting. It was also the ice in their veins when Galway levelled the match with four minutes remaining and Kilkenny were suddenly back in that mental place where past demons were granted the licence to scream loudly into their ears again and spook them.

Instead, Kilkenny turned that fear into inspiration.

Pain is often the best source of motivation. In The Her Sports Show, Kilkenny captain Aoife Prendergast spoke about the disappointment of losing last year’s All-Ireland semi-final to Cork.

“That was a huge defeat for us,” said Prendergast. “There was massive disappointment in our dressing room afterwards. We have bottled that hurt up from last year and we need to use that now as momentum going into the final.”

At this stage, Kilkenny camogie could nearly sell shares in hurt given how often they have lost on the big stage over the last decade. Sunday will be Kilkenny’s eighth final in 10 years but Kilkenny have only won two titles in that timespan.

They haven’t won successive All-Irelands now for over 30 years but when Kilkenny set out on that bid last year, Cork stopped them in their tracks. Again. Three of those five All-Ireland final defeats Kilkenny have suffered since 2013 have come at the hands of Cork. And Kilkenny will be desperate to ensure it doesn’t happen again, especially in another final.

Cork will want to keep their foot stamped on Kilkenny’s throat, which is also bound up in the historical context of the rivalry and how Kilkenny dominated the relationship for so long.

Historically, there has always been an edge to the rivalry, especially from a Cork perspective, primarily because they always struggled to beat Kilkenny.

Despite topping the roll of honour with 28 titles, Cork only managed to beat Kilkenny in seven of those finals. And three of those wins have come in the last decade.

On the other hand, of Kilkenny’s 14 titles, nine were won in finals against Cork. When Kilkenny won seven-in-a-row between 1985-1991, they defeated Cork in four of those deciders.


When Cork finally defeated Kilkenny in the 1995 final for the first time in six final meetings over the previous 20 years, it was the sweetest victory Cork camogie had ever tasted.

That 1995 game also ended a remarkable sequence of Cork-Kilkenny camogie dominance. Between 1970 and 1995, the two shared 23 of the 26 titles of that period.

When RTÉ first started showing highlights of camogie finals in the 1980s, Cork and Kilkenny always seemed to be the only two counties competing, such was their dominance.

They were ahead of everyone else, on so many levels. In the 1989 All-Ireland final, Cork played with a sweeper, long before the term became so popular in hurling or camogie.

That level of innovation captured how much the teams put into trying to beat each other.

The Cork-Kilkenny rivalry always meant something, but it evaporated during the late nineties and noughties as Kilkenny slipped in the rankings. The relationship between the counties changed dramatically at senior level, but it was still highly active at underage level, which helped hone the rivalry as many of those players met at senior level.

Yet the edge has really been sharpened in recent years, with tomorrow being the sides fifth final meeting in nine seasons.

Kilkenny only beat Cork in one of those finals — in 2016 — but Cork came back to exact the ultimate retribution with successive final wins over their great rivals. The pain was all the more acute again for Kilkenny with Cork winning both games by a single point.

Cork's Chloe Sigerson scores a point against Kilkenny in 2020. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Cork's Chloe Sigerson scores a point against Kilkenny in 2020. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

The modern game has been absolutely dominated by Cork, Galway, and Kilkenny, but the big difference in the Cork-Kilkenny rivalry now is that Kilkenny are trying to crack Cork in the same way that Cork spent so long desperately trying to break Kilkenny.

All those bitter losses have imbued Kilkenny with the same desire and hunger for success that propelled Cork against Kilkenny for years.

“We’re well versed in loss at this stage,” said Collette Dormer in 2018.

“But you learn to pick yourself up again, to push through that heartbreak and pain, to keep moving.

“You learn not to see your losses as a weight holding you down but as fuel — fuel to succeed.”

Kilkenny will be powered by that fuel again tomorrow but Cork have their own hurt and motivation too, having lost last year’s final to Galway.

It’s also four years now since Cork last won an All-Ireland. Since the 10-year drought between 1983-92, when Cork were under Kilkenny’s thumb, Cork have never gone more than five years without an All-Ireland.

Cork will be highly motivated tomorrow, but so will Kilkenny. And that is the kind of onslaught that Cork will now need to meet head-on.

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