by Daragh Ó Conchúir
THIS traditional rivalry had actually lost its lustre for a while but it has recovered all its intensity in recent years, with Kilkenny establishing themselves as major contenders for honours on a consistent basis once more.
This is the fourth consecutive National Final that the teams have appeared in and the Cats lead the count 2-1 at the moment.
They ended a losing run in All-Ireland Finals when dethroning Cork in the 2016 decider by four points and that set the tone.
They repeated the trick in last year’s Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues Division 1 Final, an early Denise Gaule goal giving them a head start that proved significant as Cork redoubled their efforts in the second half. That Gaule major proved the difference in the end.
The following September, it was the Leesiders’ turn to burst out of the traps in the All-Ireland Final yet they were behind with 59 minutes of play elapsed.
Then came the monster equaliser from Gemma O’Connor right on the hour and substitute Julia White popped up with a dramatic winner in injury time for Cork to prevail.
The Rebels’ boss, Paudie Murray and his Kilkenny counterpart, Ann Downey have overseen considerable improvements in both their squads, in terms of the professionalism they have brought to preparations and the depth of the panels themselves.
The two teams have displayed a greater tactical awareness than had been traditional in Camogie and this flexibility is a key factor in their success of recent seasons.
But of course they are sides laden with experience and stellar talent. Cork have had to do without the injured O’Connor and captain Aoife Murray due to injury, while Rena Buckley has taken the spring off to consider her future.
Crucially, the likes of Orla Cronin and Amy O’Connor have carried on from excellent All-Ireland Final performances, while Ashling Thompson, Orla Cotter and Laura Treacy are just some of the others to have stood out as they progressed to the Final without any blemish on their record.
Kilkenny did suffer a surprise five-point defeat to Limerick but still topped Group 2, thanks in no small part to the brilliance of Anne Dalton, Julie Anne Malone, Miriam Walsh and Gaule.
They were without the Thomastown contingent for most of the campaign due to club commitments but were able to introduce last year’s captain Anna Farrell late on in their Semi-Final defeat of Galway. Her predecessor Michelle Quilty, who lifted the O’Duffy Cup in 2016, was brought on earlier.
As ever, the League is vital for enabling players to break through. In 2017, Niamh McCarthy (Cork) and Danielle Morrissey (Kilkenny) were among those to establish themselves as first-teamers.
Linda Collins started last year’s League Final but was unable to get in for the Championship. She illustrated the capability that made her a key operator at Intermediate and Minor level once more in the Semi-Final against Limerick however, scoring two first-half goals and adding three points from play in a four-point win. Little wonder she walked away with the Player of the Match award.
Aoife Doyle has impressed for Kilkenny. Still a Leaving Cert student, she has been brought along gently by Downey but the Piltown teenager has shown a very keen eye for goal and registered another green flag in her team’s four-point Semi-Final victory over Galway.
The teams have plenty in common and are the two best sides in the country. Kilkenny are pursuing a third title in-a-row and fourth in five seasons, while Cork haven’t been successful since 2013.
As has become customary between these two sides, the result should be in doubt right to the very end.
Sunday April 8th
Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues Division 1 Final
Nowlan Park, Kilkenny
Cork v Kilkenny
Allianz Hurling League Roinn 1 Final
Nowlan Park, Kilkenny
Kilkenny v Tipperary
Adult Pre-Purchase: €25
Adult Matchday: €30
Student/Senior Citizen: €25
Both games will be broadcast live on TG4 from 1.25pm.