by Therese O'Callaghan
With the highly anticipated Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Championship Final between Cork and Kilkenny fast approaching, we asked current players Ann Marie Guinan of Offaly and Dublin’s Sarah O’Donovan for their expert view.
Offaly participated in Group 1 of the Championship along with Cork, while Dublin played the reigning champions Kilkenny in Group 2. The Dubs also met them in the last four. So, who better than Ann Marie and Sarah to give their expert opinions on how they see the biggest game of the year unfold.
Cork v Kilkenny by Sarah O’Donovan
All-Ireland titles are hard won as current champions Kilkenny will attest to.
Bridesmaids until they ended a 22-year drought last September, they have been in the driving seat in 2017. They added the Leinster championship to the National League Division 1 title in April and are aiming for a clean sweep. Cork by comparison have picked up no silverware yet, Limerick stealing their thunder in Munster. I doubt Cork will lose much sleep over that Munster title if they claim the O’Duffy Cup and the other prize, top spot on the all-time roll of honour.
There is a major question though. Have Cork been tested enough this summer to prepare themselves for the champions? With three of the four All-Ireland Semi-Finalists (Kilkenny, Galway and Dublin) coming from one group in this year’s championship and Cork the sole representatives from Group 2, it suggests that the group did not offer Cork the requisite challenge. Cork topped the group slowing up, their closest game a five-point win over Offaly.
We have played Kilkenny three times this summer and it is clear that if Cork want to beat Kilkenny they will have to shut down Anne Dalton’s game.
Anne is essentially a sweeper and always free to play the ball through the lines. Anne has been pivotal for Kilkenny and despite it being glaringly obvious that she needs to be marked, managers have shied away from committing a player to that specific job.
It’s a specialist role which requires a player to sacrifice their own game to stop Anne from getting on the ball and setting up attacks. If Cork are to designate a forward to that role then they must be freed of the responsibility to get scores and concentrate solely on that job. Galway took that approach with incredibly influential Waterford hurler Austin Gleeson last weekend and that is why the Liam McCarthy Cup is now west of the Shannon. No doubt Paudie Murray and the Cork management team have someone earmarked for this job already…and if they don’t…well…there’s still time….
Bring on Sunday!
Cork v Kilkenny by Ann Marie Guinan
Old rivals Cork and Kilkenny once again face each other in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Championship Final this Sunday afternoon. It's a strained relationship between the two sides with everything at stake. Kilkenny have the upper hand going into this game having beaten the Rebells in last year's final and the National League Divisioan 1 Final earlier this year. Cork no doubt will be gunning for revenge and to improve on last year's poor final performance.
To add to the excitement, this game is expected to be a real tactical battle. Ann Downey and Paudie Murray have brought the Camogie game to the modern day with their tactics and game plans. Expect plenty of positional changes and strategic marking as both teams bid to get over the line. The beauty of this game is that both management teams will trust their players to line out whereever needs be, you could be number three but playing wing back which we have seen with Rena Buckley plenty of times this year.
The big talking point ahead of Sunday is whether Gemma O'Connor will be fit to play or not. It's been reported that she has damaged ligaments in her knee, which is compounded by an ongoing ankle injury however I eagerly await the match day programme to confirm this. Gemma is the backbone for Cork and commands and controls the game at six similar to Kilkenny's Anne Dalton.
We've seen how the Cork defence crumbled when Gemma was forced off in the Semi-Final and this will be a huge factor to whether Cork win or lose the game. If O'Connor isn't fit to play I would expect Rena Buckley to slot in at number six given her style of play and current fitness, she's probably Cork's best option as a replacement.
One of the biggest talking points of the hurling year was the role of sweepers which has also crept into camogie. Ann Dalton plays a significant role for Kilkenny at number six. Dalton plays extremely deep almost as an extra full-back to snuff out any potential goal threats that may come Emma Kavanagh’s way. In saying that, Ashling Thompson has also adopted a new role for Cork this year. She tracks back and offers plenty of support to the half-back line. Given her athletic ability she covers plenty of ground and the saying "pulls the strings from the middle of the field" is a good way to sum up her performance. Kilkenny will have to mark her tightly if they don't want her to have any influence in the game.
Expect a hard fought, low scoring contest. However, I think Kilkenny will prevail. Kilkenny have more depth in their team. Cork have struggled this year to cut straight through oppositions’ defence and score goals while the Cats can call on a number of goal getters like Denise Gaule, Michelle Quilty, Miriam Walsh etc. But in saying that, we have seen Galway hurlers win an All-Ireland without scoring a goal.
When we look at the stats, Cork have conceded only two goals in this championship, while Kilkenny have the toughest defence as on average they only conceded 10.2 points per game, it's going to be hard work for both teams' forwards. Kilkenny haven't hit the highs of last year's performances and I think they're saving it for the biggest day.