Can Cork complete first camogie ‘Grand Slam’?
With the Under 16 and Minor Championships safely residing on Leeside Sunday in Croke Park will be historic as Cork's Senior and Intermediate camogie teams bid for an unprecedented clean sweep of All-Ireland titles.
Records indicate that this has never been achieved before and it is testimony to the strength of the game in the county that history beckons.
Of course the players from Galway and Kilkenny will be determined to ensure that they are not party to history!
Glen Dimplex Senior Final
Cork v Kilkenny on Sunday in Croke Park at 4.15pm
“It’s great to be looking forward to the final; it is where you want to be at the start of every year, and now we cannot wait for Sunday to come.” Cork centre-back Laura Tracey speaking at a very well organised media night last week.
Laura is one of Cork’s more experienced players and she intends to impart the knowledge of previous visits to HQ on All-Ireland Final day to the younger members of the panel. “Well it is something those of us that have been here before try and do before every big game and this week will be no different.”
Having watched Kilkenny in the semi-final, Laura knows exactly what to expect: “They are a quality side - they drew with and then beat the All-Ireland champions Galway in recent weeks so they will come into the final in confident mood.”
The Killeagh player is well aware of the quality Kilkenny possess especially in attack. “When you have players like Denise Gaule, Miriam Walsh, Katie Nolan and Michaela Kenneally facing you, anything less than 100% concentration and effort for the 60 plus minutes.”
That said Laura is confident they can cope: “We have worked hard all year, looked at the options Kilkenny have and we are well prepared for Sunday.”
In fact the Cork defence has been excellent all year, Amy Lee has grown into the captain’s role with ease and has hardly put a foot wrong in goal, while despite their dual demands Libby Coppinger and Meabh Cahalane have coped admirably.
Meabh Murphy has impressed, while wing backs Laura Hayes and Saoirse McCarthy’s ability to defend and at the same time venture forward to clip over points has proven to be an added bonus.
For coach Matthew Twomey Sunday will be a special occasion but he too knows that Kilkenny represent a serious threat to their ambitions. “Any team that beats the champions deserve respect and we will give them that, because they are a very good team.”
Cork beat them in last year’s semi-final and drew the league encounter on a horrible day in April which suggests there is very little between the teams. “Nothing really and there never has been, small margins can decide games and hopefully they fall our way on Sunday.”
The coach is also keen to get a good start and avoid the scenario of the semi-final where they took 25 minutes to score. A repeat on Sunday and Matthew says they will not win: “Kilkenny are - with all due respect - a better team than Waterford and if we play like that it will be over by half-time, but we have worked hard in training since that game, got it out of our system and addressed the issue and hopefully resolved them.”
By the same token Matthew was thrilled at how they coped: “Really pleased - the players worked hard and eventually got the job done and finished the match brilliantly and that is how they have been working all year, attitude and application has been excellent.”
Unlike last year there are no distractions and Matthew even though annoyed at the late notification of Ashling Thompson’s appeal was delighted at the outcome given her importance to the team. “At least it’s now out of the way and we all saw how important Ashling is to our team, she steadied the ship when introduced and her experience will be crucial on Sunday.”
It’s a game that has many permutations that could shape the outcome; Thompson’s influence in midfield might give them an edge against the Kilkenny duo of the formidable Katie Power and Steph Fitzgerald.
The Cork attack stuttered for long periods in the semi-final, but the introduction of Emma Murphy whose pace ripped Waterford apart. She was unlucky for a goal, got a quality point and is a contender to start or will they once again hold her in reserve?
Claire Phelan, Grace Walsh and Michelle Teehan are quality defenders and as a consequence Amy O’Connor, Catriona Mackey, Hannah Looney and Sorcha McCartan will need to deliver a consistent display and a better scoring return if they are get this one over the line.
Cork have enjoyed a very good season for a team that could be viewed as been in transition with a number of players that were central to recent wins no longer involved and under a new management team as well.
Munster champions, runners-up in the league now just one more step left, but this is the toughest one; Cork have had the better of recent encounters with their greatest rivals, they are well capable of maintaining that run on Sunday, but only if they deliver their best display of the season.
Cork to win.
Glen Dimplex Intermediate Final
Cork v Galway on Sunday at Croke Park at 2pm
In many respects, the Intermediate team’s season to date has replicated that of the senior’s; Munster champions, beaten in the league semi-final by Wexford who subsequently played senior and now in the All-Ireland Final.
The fact that two separate panels are being used helped as it allowed both teams to focus on the players they had available at all times, although the loss through injury of captain Finola Neville is a blow - she is a quality player.
Manager Trevor Coleman said the players have worked hard all year. “They have been excellent, they apply themselves at all times and have been a pleasure to deal with all season. Okay we have had a few knocks but that only strengthens the desire within the group on and off the field.”
Trevor says Galway will present them with their biggest challenge: “No question about that, I didn’t see all of their semi-final but I looked back at it as have the girls and they are a very good team, but look we are a good team as well, our preparation has been excellent and I am confident that the girls can deliver on Sunday.”
Cork looked dead and buried in the semi-final against Derry but battled back to win in dramatic fashion and that pleased defender Sliabh Rua’s Jill O’Leary.
“It was brilliant the way we never gave up and we have been like that all year, and hopefully we can do the same on Sunday, even though we haven’t played Galway we know how good they are and we will need our best display of the season to win.”
Like everyone in the group Jill is really looking forward to the final: “It is every players dream and ambition to play in Croke Park on All-Ireland day and now it’s going to happen, but to win is the objective and we have the work done and now it’s a case of completing the task.”
Galway have a strong side on duty Fiona Ryan, Katie Manning, Ciara Donohue and Katie Ann Power anchor a solid defence, Jennifer Hughes is a hard working midfielder while the attack will look to Siobhan Divilly, Laura Loughnane and Olwen Rabbitte to unhinge the Cork rearguard.
For their part, Cork only suffered one defeat in the group phase - ironically to Derry - but by then they had their semi-final spot secured, but they survived a tough test in the last four and the manner in which they chiselled out that win will stand to them on Sunday.
They have been solid all year, Stephanie Beausang fronts a competent defence that includes Niamh O’Leary, Leanne O’Sullivan and Ashling Moloney.
The usual midfield pairing of Lauren Callanan and Rachel Harty have worked hard all year, Callanan’s dynamism has been a feature in every game.
In attack Lauren Homan and Hayley Ryan tore Derry apart in the first half of the semi-final, but for some reason they stopped getting quality ball in the second period and as a consequence Cork struggled for scores.
Indeed were it not for the introduction of Katelyn Hickey they might not have got over the line - that and the unerring accuracy from placed balls of Joanne Casey, it could and probably would have been a different outcome.
This is a hard one to call, Galway will probably start as favourites and unless Cork deliver a top class performance from the off, they might struggle for scores from play.
However manager Coleman has no doubts that “if we play to our full potential, we will be very hard to beat and I have full confidence in the girls to deliver that when it matters most”.
With that in mind, we will give the nod to Cork.