Cork set for historic camogie final clash
It was 30 April deep in the bowels of Páirc Uí Chaoimh as I approached Matthew Twomey, the Cork camogie manager, one of the most likeable individuals in sport to deal with. This time he was ashen faced.
Cork had just lost to Waterford in the Munster Senior Championship, an unexpected result, but it must be said a deserved one for the girls from the Decie County on the day.
He spoke candidly, as he always does and said it was simply not good enough and unless there was an improvement, it would be a short season.
Behind him the dressing-room doors were closed and they remained that way for close on 40 minutes as the players digested what had just happened.
A few home truths were told no doubt.
Fast forward to last Thursday night, sun shining hundreds of young girls and boys in the Cork Camogie grounds at Castle Road taking selfies, getting autographs and pictures with the very same group of Cork players as they prepared for the All-Ireland Final.Ironically, it’s against Waterford.
Could it be that the defeat that Sunday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was a turning point? It very well may have been.
Cork did lose their opening game in the group phase of the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Championship to Galway narrowly, but since then they have remained unbeaten and are now 60 minutes away from finally landing a coveted title, which has eluded them since 2018.
For the early part of the season, injuries were a factor in team selection with key players missing vital games, and yet they still made it to the league final losing to Galway.
For now though, Matthew is thrilled with how the players have responded and is eagerly looking forward to Sunday’s final: “Without a doubt. Mind you there was times when I didn’t think we would get there, but the players have been brilliant overcoming a few obstacles and now it’s all systems go for Sunday.”
Was that defeat to Waterford a turning point? “Yes it was. I believe you saw yourself in the tunnel that day the girls held their own meeting. We met as a full group on the following Tuesday at training, a few home truths were told and while we did lose to Galway, the corner was turned.”
After the Galway loss every game there after became a must win and they have all been won; okay Cork should be beating Down and Clare and they did, especially the latter comfortably in Ennis, where a week earlier Galway struggled to get over the line.
As for Sunday Matthew is under no illusions. “This is a very good Waterford side as we well know, and remember last year’s semi-final - were it not the introduction of Ashling (Thompson) we might not have won, and any team that can beat Tipperary the way they did must be treated seriously and we are, also you don’t get this far in the Championship unless you are a good team.”
Having suffered repeatedly at the hands of Kilkenny and Galway, 8 losses on the bounce to the latter, it was very important for this group of players to beat these two sides en route to the final.
“There is no doubt about that another loss to either, well we would have been out anyway, but the girls were very focussed for those games, should have won by more both days, but winning was very important and winning tight games shows that we are moving in the right direction at last.”
One other factor and it was very evident in the quarter and semi-finals is the impact off the bench and those injured players are returning from injury.
“That has been crucial, look at the contribution they all made Cliona (Healy) clipped over points, Laura (Hayes) an All-Star last year - her surging runs are vital, while Ashling and Orla (Cronin) have all played their part so really the depth of the squad is now better than it has been all year.”
It all means a headache for Matthew and his selectors when they sit down to pick the starting 15, but “a nice one to have and now we know that whatever 15 is selected we have options, if some are not playing well or we pick up an injury.”
As for the other big question - can we win? “I would be confident if we play to our potential we will, but as I said it won’t be easy.”
It is also a special day for captain Amy O’Connor whose form in recent games has been a factor in Cork getting to the final and like everyone else she can’t wait for Sunday. “It’s great to be in the final; it is where every player wants to be, this is what you train for all year and now it’s a case of let’s try and get the job done.”
Like her manager Matthew, Amy is adamant that the win over Kilkenny in the quarter-final was significant as it in her own words ‘got the monkey off the back’.
“It did indeed and the relief after that game was palpable and it gave us great confidence for the semi-final win over Galway. Again it wasn’t pretty but we got the job done.”
Amy is impressed by Waterford: “Obviously they beat us in the Munster Championship and that hurt us, then they were well behind in the semi-final against a good Tipperary team and came back to win, so we know we are facing a good side on Sunday.”
One other factor is the support that Waterford will bring something manager and captain agree on. “It was incredible in Nowlan Park and no doubt they will be in Croke Park on Sunday, but look we have had great support as well and hopefully we will keep them quiet this time.”
As for the captain’s role Amy says “it’s been easy really as there are leaders all over the field, we all know what we have to do and go out and do, it has been an exciting few weeks and hopefully we can cap it off by winning”.
How Cork line up could shape the contest, the homework will have been done on Waterford’s key players. In attack Beth Carton and Niamh Rockett have been central to everything they have achieved all season, with good support from Abby Flynn and Grace O’Brien.
If they are contained, they will struggle for scores and here the Cork defence have excelled.
Pamela Mackey has marked the best all year and generally won her individual duels, similarly Meabh Cahalane has hardly put a foot wrong.
Laura Tracey in her central role has the capacity to control the defensive alignment, her reading of the game along with excellent distribution have set up many a Cork score, equally if Laura Hayes is alongside her, any team will find scores hard to come by.
Another big battle will be in midfield and here the clash of Lorraine Bray and Saoirse McCarthy will be fascinating, both have pace, a high work rate and an eye for scores.
In my view McCarthy has been one of Cork’s most consistent players all season and has chipped in with some crucial scores win this battle and Cork will be in a strong position.
One area that Cork really benefitted from in their more recent wins was the quality and quick ball that was delivered into the full-forward line and more particularly to Amy O’Connor and Katrina Mackey. Continue that trend and they will prosper especially in the wide open spaces of HQ.
At various time in the semi-final, the Waterford full-back line struggled in this area and Cork will have noted this.
Cork’s attack did have their difficulties in the semi-final and they will look for an improved performance this time round - it will be needed.
Fiona Keating and Hannah Looney are good players with a lot to offer.
As mentioned earlier Cork have lots of options, if as they have done lately and make the minimum change to the starting 15, they can call on Thompson, Cronin, Orlaith Cahalane and Emma Murphy, that is something Waterford do not have.
The Waterford graph has risen considerably in the last few years; they were Division 1B league winners earlier in the year and their minors reached the All-Ireland Final, losing to Cork, so it is no real surprise that they are where they are.
Experience and hurt will come into play as well, Cork have both they know exactly how All-Ireland Final day works and what’s involved and how to handle it, look at how they dealt with the train delay for the QF.
It’s all new for Waterford no matter how hard you try and drill it into players it’s a whole new ball game when you actually get there, and the hype within the county, which is great to see by the way, might also affect them on the day.
Hurt, well having lost the last 4 big finals they have played in, and losing to Waterford in the Munster Championship, will drive this group on to end that hurt and disappointment.
It will make for a unique occasion and having a new face in the final can only be good for the game. That said it’s Cork’s to lose, the overall experience within the group and the depth in squad is something Waterford cannot match.
I expect Waterford to bring huge intensity and passion, but if Cork can contain the early exchanges and not allow them build any momentum, Cork will win and be crowned champions for the 29th time and end the heartache of recent losses.
Best of luck to players and management.
Cork to win a game that has a 5pm start and is live on C103.