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Croke Park awaits Cork

Wednesday, 5th September, 2018 4:27pm

It’s a reflection on the strength of Cork camogie that, for the third year in a row, the senior and intermediate teams are contesting the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Finals in Croke Park, as they bid for a double that so far has eluded them.

Throw in the various games in all grades of the county championships and this is probably one of the busiest weekends of the season.

This is the third successive final between these keenest of rivals. In fact, looking at the quality of the other teams participating at this level, the question must be asked - is there anyone out there to end their dominance?

That, of course, is a question for another day.

There is, to say the least, a healthy rivalry between these sides and that will surely lead to a highly competitive contest which, like last year, could go to the wire.

Cork manager Paudie Murray is well aware of the way Kilkenny play, and it is not attractive. “They operate the sweeper system and then break at pace and that is something we will need to be prepared for.”

The manager had mixed views on Cork's semi-final win over Tipperary: “It was sloppy at times, especially in the first half, and that would not be good enough on Sunday. That said, we were much better in the second period and won comfortably.”

Last year’s match winner was Douglas star Julia White and she is glad that this year she has enjoyed an injury-free run. “Without a doubt, last year was so frustrating with injuries, but to play a part in the final made my year and hopefully we will get the same result but with less drama.”

Like her teammates, Julia is looking forward to the final: “It’s where everyone wants to be, Croke Park on All-Ireland Final day. We have worked hard all year, there us great spirit in the squad, and while we know that Kilkenny represent a huge challenge, that’s what finals are about and we are prepared for the challenge.”

Cork are the reigning champions, and ironically, the only defeat they suffered this year was at the hands of Sunday’s opponents. That was the League Final back in Nowlan Park in April. It was a strange game: Kilkenny built up a big lead, Cork battled back and almost reeled Kilkenny in and had there been another minute might just have done that.

Kilkenny have changed very little from last year and will be thirsty for revenge, and in Ann Dalton, Claire Phelan, Denise Gaule, Michele Quilty, Miriam Walsh and Katie Power, they have quality players.

By contrast there are changes on the Cork team, but it’s been seamless, reflected in the displays they have turned in all season.

Aoife Murray, the team captain, leads by example and the defence, anchored by Laura Treacy, Pamela Mackey, Chloe Sigerson and the experienced Gemma O’Connor, yield little.

Ashling Thompson is a powerhouse in midfield, while the attack with Orla Cronin, Amy O’Connor, Catriona Mackey and Orla Cotter have the capacity to unhinge any defence, even one as tight as Kilkenny’s.

The one thing that this Cork side possess, that is difficult to counter, is pace and they have used it to good effect in the wide expanse of Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Thurles and will do so again in Croke Park.

Last year’s decider was tight and tense, Cork have improved and grown in confidence since then, and with a good consistent 60 minutes it’s hard to see Kilkenny dethroning the champions.

For this particular group of players it’s a mission of atonement, having lost the last two finals, last year after a replay to Meath and for team captain Sarah Harrrington that is huge motivation.

“The agony of the last two finals is driving us; we have won the league, the Munster Championship, and now just one more step to take and we are very determined to do that.”

Down now stand in their way: “We have had some tough battles with them in the last few years, beat them last year and got a draw in the group stages, but we know that Sunday will be a tough battle,” says Sarah.

In the semi-final, Cork struggled for long periods before eventually getting the better of Galway. Equally, Down came with a late burst to see off Tipperary, so both sides will be battle hardened for this final.

Down can call on Orlagh Caldwell, Catherine O’Hare, Paula O’Hagan, Lizzie Wilson and the Carr sisters, Finoula and Sarah Louise, while Niamh Mallon bagged 0-9 in the semi-final.

This is a very good Cork side, and the experience of the last two finals will surely stand to them, while it’s a third meeting of the sides this season and Cork have won the previous two.

Niamh Ní Chaoimh, Sarah Buckley, Lauren Callanan, Katelyn Hickey, Jennifer Barry and minor star Cliona Healy, who made a huge impact when introduced in the semi-final, should have enough craft and guile to get a Super Sunday off to a winning start.

Barring draws, the last eight should be known on Sunday night with some cracking games down for decision.

Duhallow will be expected to get the better of St Nick’s in Macroom on Saturday night, and the experience of Donnacha O’Connor and Aidan Walsh will help, but they would be foolish to underestimate a youthful Nick’s side that will look to Dean Brosnan, David Dooling, Dave Dunlea and Eddie Fuller to try and spring a surprise.

Mourneabbey is the venue for the meeting of the ‘Barrs and Mallow, and despite the presence of Cian O’Riordan and James Loughrey for the latter, the southside outfit look better equipped to advance.

Two double-headers on Sunday: in Coachford, it’s a real cracker between the Rovers of Valley and Clyda, with a nod to the Innishannon side to win, while champions Nemo Rangers with Paul Kerrigan, Luke Connolly, Micheal Aodh Martin and Stephen Cronin anchoring their challenge, should be too strong for O’Donovan Rossa.

Bandon is the venue for the second double-header where Bishopstown, with Conor Dorman, Jamie O’Sullivan and Ken O’Halloran in their team, look good enough to get over Clonakilty.

The second game is probably the tie of the round where recent winners Carbery Rangers and Ballincollig meet and it's hard to call a winner with quality on both sides. With James Fitzpatrick, John and Seamus Hayes and John O’Rourke for ‘Ross, Paddy Kelly, Cian Kiely, Cian Dorgan and Ciaran O’Sullivan for Ballincollig, there's very little between them. It might need a second game to get a winner.

In Ballygarvan, it's Douglas vs Carrigaline, and with both suffering hurling defeats last week, a win would get one club back on track and the odds favour Douglas.

CIT and Castlhaven meet in Clougduv, and while they have been below par recently, the ‘Haven, with Michael and Brian Hurley, Damien Cahalane and Mark Collins on duty, should win.

There's one game in the relegation series where Kiskeam might just edge out a youthful Doheny’s side.

The last quarter-final spot is up for grabs when Blackrock take on Ballymartle in Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday, with St Finbarrs awaiting the winners.

Blackrock will be fancied with John Cashman and Michael O’Halloran among their big players, and while Ballymartle are not as formidable as in recent years, they remain hard to beat and with Brian and Seamus Corry and Darren McCarthy still going strong, they will test the Rockies, but not enough to beat them.

Castlemartyr, buoyed by their excellent win over Glen Rovers, will look for the same level of performance for their clash with Mayfield - if they can repeat it, they will be hard to beat.

Watergrasshill had a late win over Blarney and will be favoured to get the better of Fermoy; Darragh Fitzgibbon will be a key player for Charleville for their clash with Inniscarra, who will have Sean O’Donoghue and John O’Callaghan in their team.

The big game in this championship is the East Cork derby of Cloyne and Fr O’Neill’s, and while there’s a youthful look to the Ballymacoda side, the experience and spirit of Cloyne makes them hard to beat and O’Neill’s might just find that out.

Eire Óg, with Daniel Goulding and Kevin Hallissey in good form, should get over Na Piarsaigh.

In football, there's a huge game in Macroom where Millstreet, under the guidance of former Kerry star Aidan O’Mahoney, come up against an in-form Cill Na Martra, who can call on the veteran Noel O’Leary, and they might just edge this one.

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