It wasn’t pretty at times but the relocation of Aoife Donohue to the inside line was just about the deciding factor as Galway gritted it out in a war of attrition against Cork to set up a mouth-watering Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League Division 1 final at Croke Park next Sunday night, after a 1-19 to 1-17 extra-time win over Cork at UPMC Nowlan Park.
That will be a repeat of last December’s All-Ireland final, in which the westerners finished off second best and they won’t want for motivation. They are the defending champions too, having won the last final in 2019.
If Kilkenny will be looking for an improvement after their slightly fortuitous defeat of Tipperary, so too will Galway, even if no one could argue with their two-point success.
This was a much scrappier affair than the fluid game we had in the first semi-final, with lots of frees, many of which were missed, and just a lack of accuracy in passing, control and shooting.
The exchanges were robust to say the least however, and there was no doubting the hunger of both sides to be playing under lights in front of up to 5,000 people at HQ.
Katrina Mackey had a point for Cork after 15 seconds but Carrie Dolan shot the next three points, including two from placed balls.
Catherine Finnerty was only on the field a matter of seconds for Galway, in place of the injured Orlaith McGrath, when she pounced on a loose ball after Laura Treacy gave goalie Amy Lee a lot to do.
Finnerty played the hand-pass to Siobhán McGrath and the Sarsfields poacher drilled to the net cleverly on the half-volley in the 13th minute, realising she would have been hooked with a regular strike out of the hand.
Cork’s 26th minute goal got them back into the fray however, and it was something they would have been working towards, getting Amy O’Connor into space and utilising her Olympian speed.
Paudie Murray will be delighted that it started with O’Connor’s workrate as she dispossessed Sarah Healy 50m out and tight to the right sideline.
Fiona Keating provided back-up to gather possession and transferred to Ashling Thompson, who spotted O’Connor on the move. Once the hand-pass found its target, O’Connor was able to solo almost 30m with Emma Helebert chasing, before unleashing a shot that flew beyond Sarah Healy.
It was the Galway custodian’s first concession this season and she might not have been helped by the slight deflection off the retreating Sarah Dervan.
Laura Hayes and Niamh Kilkenny swapped points afterwards, then Cronin and Dalton slotted frees before Thompson stole forward well just before the short whistle and split the posts confidently to make it 1-7 to 1-6 at the break.
It was Galway that found a bit more rhythm after the restart, even if Ciara O’Sullivan extended the margin to two early on.
Although it was three points from Dolan frees that moved Galway ahead by the 40th minute, that was as a result of increased pressure and they were definitely more threatening at this juncture.
Donohue was now situated in the left corner and her point, within seconds of Dolan’s third placed ball, was a testament to economy with a neat finish.
Cork offered a reminder to what they were capable of when creating a glorious goal chance but on this occasion, Thompson was unable to source O’Connor with her stick pass. Keating cleared the black spot, however. The Rebels were going nowhere.
Dolan pointed from play before Donohue was fouled for a penalty in the 49th minute after a glorious bit of skill.
At first, the diminutive attacker won a ball she wasn’t favourite for. Then she spun Libby Coppinger and flicked the sliotar over the advancing Ellen Murphy, taking it back on the hurley without breaking stride. Her progress was halted illegally however but Dolan opted to take a point from the resulting award.
It was frantic stuff in the closing minutes, as Cork poured forward, their bench having a significant impact.
Substitute Saoirse McCarthy had a point, after a heavy tackle on goalbound O’Connor went unpunished. Siobhán Gardiner made a brilliant hook on Izzy O’Regan.
With two minutes left Cork were awarded a penalty for a foul on Thompson but Sigerson’s low drive found the advertising hoarding rather than the net.
Mackey made it a one-point game however, before another sub Cliona Healy, hitting a delicious point over her left shoulder, the sliotar dropping over off the inside of the upright.
There was a chance late on for a winner as Sigerson bore down on goal but her hand pass couldn’t find a teammate and we were headed for an additional 20 minutes.
Having gone so close to losing it, Galway outscored their opponents by four points to one in the first period of extra time, Donohue providing two of them.
Dolan was given her marching orders for a second yellow card in the 74th minute and Cork sensed an opportunity.
O’Connor and Healy (free) left just the minimum between the sides but just as everyone was considering the prospect of another chapter, Rebecca Hennelly slotted her second point after coming on at the start of extra time to ensure that Cathal Murray’s squad would progress.
SCORERS FOR GALWAY: C Dolan 0-12(8fs, 1 45, 1 pen); A Donohue 0-4; S McGrath 1-0; R Hennelly 0-2(1f); N Kilkenny 0-1
SCORERS FOR CORK: A O’Connor 1-1; K Mackey, O Cronin(fs), C Healy(2fs) 0-3 each; L Hayes, A Thompson, C O’Sullivan, F Keating, L Collins, S McCarthy, C Sigerson 0-1 each
GALWAY: Sarah Healy, S Dervan, Shauna Healy, T Kenny, R Black, E Helebert, S Gardiner, N Kilkenny, N McGrath, C Dolan, S Spellman, A Donohue, S McGrath, A O’Reilly, O McGrath.
Subs: C Finnerty for O McGrath inj (12), AM Starr for S McGrath (47), D Higgins for O’Reilly (55), R Hennelly for N McGrath (ft), S McGrath for Gardiner (ft), N McGrath for Spellman (68), O’Reilly for S McGrath (80+2)
CORK: A Lee, M Cahalane, L Coppinger, E Murphy, H Looney, L Treacy, L Hayes, K Mackey, A Thompson, C Sigerson, O Cronin, C O’Sullivan, F Keating, A O’Connor, L Collins
Subs: C Healy for Collins (47), I O’Regan for O’Sullivan (51), S McCarthy for Looney (52), I Sheehan for Mackey inj (ht et)
REFEREE: Liz Dempsey (Kilkenny)