IMELDA HOBBINS was the first woman to captain Galway to an All-Ireland in 1996.
These days she co-commentates Galway’s league and championship games for Galway Bay FM. She is as familiar with Cork and Galway as I am and we agree on many aspects of how both teams are faring in this year’s league and what the championship is likely to bring.
Here, she reflects on Galway’s league campaign ahead of their final with Cork.
“Galway didn’t have a great start in their opening game against Tipperary. They still had players to come back into the panel and the Sarsfields girls hadn’t come back from their club All-Ireland win.
“There was a huge turnaround in their second game against Kilkenny, I’d say one of the finest performances of the league, showing great hunger.
“Carrie Dolan is the key player for Galway at the moment, both from scores and frees and also showing great vision in her runs and support. We’ve been very good in defence all through the league. Shauna Healy (full-back) is the captain this year. As they’ve gone through the league Galway’s full-back line are getting better.
“Emma (Helebert) at centre-back had a particularly great game against Clare and Rachel Hanniffy has been playing the role of coming forward from defence. A concern is that they aren’t settling up front.”
Galway have played the league without star forwards Siobhan and Orlaith McGrath, Orlaith due back after a cruciate injury last year. Both are expected to be back for the championship campaign.
In their absence, Galway are relying on Carrie Dolan and Ailish O’Reilly, who is lining out at full-forward but possibly more of a threat when playing in the corner. Aoife Donoghue can also be a tormentor and is playing well for Galway, always bringing a huge work-rate to the pitch.
Niamh Kilkenny, while no official retirement has been announced, does look as if she has called time on her inter-county career. Imelda feels that could be the case.
She’s a huge loss as Galway miss her thundering forward with the ball.”
Sarah Dervan, Galway’s 2022 captain, and a hugely influential player is back on the panel. Where she’ll figure is hard to know with Roisín Black having putting her stamp on the number three position.
But what an impact sub Dervan would be if Cathal Murray holds her. Cork will be favourites based on league performances to date.
“I wouldn’t read too much into the game two weeks ago. The performance that day was always going to come from Galway and in fairness they delivered. Both teams will want to win it.
“They’ll be looking for a performance with championship at the back of their minds. Both sides are building. I think Cork need the victory more than Galway. There’s a lot of Galway’s All-Ireland-winning intermediate team coming through. Cathal is good at that.
“Sometimes you can get caught with a panel of players and keep using your reliables. But Cathal, and this year more than any other year, has really used his panel. Every game had a different team all through the league. He’s used players such as Katie Anna Porter at wing-back, Jennifer Hughes, Niamh Niland, Ciara Hickey, Laura Kelly and given them loads of game-time. These are all girls that have come up from Intermediate. I’d say he’s used his five subs allowed in every game.”
Matthew Twomey has also been giving much of his panel good game time. They’ve used 28 players. Pam Mackey returns from injury tomorrow, as does Orla Cronin.
This does improve the bench and Cork have been short on impact subs in the past so it’s very welcomed. Both Galway and Cork play a similar style. 15 on 15 and attack from the back, running and support play, key components. She’s impressed with Cork’s defence.
“Laura Tracey has really taken over the No 6 role, covers both sides well and attacks and I think has a great understanding with Laura Hayes as well. Libby is playing brilliantly at full-back and doesn’t just clear the ball; she makes great deliveries. I think Cork no more than Galway were struggling to get scores the last day. There was a swirling wind but both sides had chances that they didn’t take.
“Like in hurling, goals aren’t as plentiful as they were back in our day but are still hugely important.”