IT says a lot about Galway that they came to Cork and fought out a one-point victory in their final group game last Sunday which saw them leap over Tipperary for a place in the final on April 16, again against Cork.
Tipperary had their league destiny in the palm of their hands and failed to see it home.
Their one-point defeat to Kilkenny was a big blow to a team that more so than Cork, Galway or Kilkenny needed a league final appearance. I couldn’t see Tipp beating Cork in the league final.
But Tipperary needed to get there, and it goes to show again that when it boils down to it the top three just aren’t going to be knocked off their perch by Tipperary or anyone else anytime soon.
What the Cork and Galway game did show up last week is how difficult it was to get past an excellent Galway full-back line. Points galore are going to be what wins it in two weeks’ time.
We got one goal in each of the two finals in 2022 and lost both games. Galway got two past us in the league final, Kilkenny got one in the All-Ireland. Most forward lines won’t get much change out of Cork’s defence either.
There were a couple of changes in there last weekend, but Cork’s defence is hard to break down and Libby Coppinger was outstanding at number three.
Saoirse McCarthy’s three points in six minutes were top-drawer. She has a lovely style and adds to it, great pace, and accuracy. Cork won’t be bothered by the defeat; they’ll welcome it and it gives them greater hunger for the showdown.
Good news for Cork was the return to play of Orla Cronin midway through the second half, her first appearance this season. Katrina and Pam Mackey are still nursing medium-term injuries.
A welcome return for Galway is Sarah Dervan, their highly dependable and experienced full-back, two-time All-Ireland-winning captain and seven-time All-Star defender.
The jury is still out as to whether Niamh Kilkenny will line out for championship, it’s felt she will. Heather Cooney won’t be available while Orlaith McGrath, Rebecca Hennelly and Ciara Donohue are all still recovering from cruciate injuries.
Club All-Ireland victors with Sarsfields, Maria Cooney, Sarah Spellman and Siobhan McGrath are rehabbing other injuries.
Galway goalscorer Ailish O’Reilly agreed that it was a big plus to get Dervan back. “It’s great to have her experience back there again, her presence is huge. She’s good to go now. I don’t know if she’ll be playing in a couple of weeks, that’ll be up to management but she’s working hard and to have her back in is a great boost. We’re getting there slowly but surely.”
Denis Kelly’s Tipperary side were hugely despondent as two injury-time points from Denise Gaule, snatched a 0-14 to 0-13 triumph for Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.
Gaule converted a free to win the All-Ireland final last August and she wasn’t found wanting once more when presented with two opportunities in the closing minutes. She had missed Cork’s victory over Kilkenny a fortnight ago due to a family occasion.
There was never much between the sides in a dogfight, with the teams level on nine occasions.
Tipp got the better start with points from Eimear McGrath and Eimear Heffernan.
Julianne Malone and Sophie O’Dwyer, who scored eight points between them, brought Kilkenny back level and it was nip and tuck before O’Dwyer delivered from a free to make it 0-5 to 0-4 for the home team.
Defences were definitely on top. Heffernan’s second of her three points started a run of four in seven minutes that moved Tipp 0-9 to 0-7 clear. Gaule and Malone replied, and there was a further exchange of scores before Cáit Devane and Heffernan provided.
Again, Brian Dowling’s Kilkenny dug deep via a pair of Gaule scores. Tipp looked to have grasped a win with McGrath’s fourth point in the third minute of injury time, but that was to reckon without the nerveless Gaule, who brought her tally to five and enabled Kilkenny to finish a largely forgettable campaign for them in the best possible manner.