By Daragh Ó Conchúir, at UPMC Nowlan Park
Cork overcame a never-say-die Galway team that stayed in touch thanks to two Siobhán McGrath goals to deservedly reach a fifth straight national final and a third Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior camogie championship decider on a 0-15 to 2-6 scoreline.
Some huge performances from the likes of Saoirse McCarthy, Libby Coppinger and Hannah Looney, as well as four points and a number of major contributions off the bench, meant that the Rebels would secure a first triumph over their rivals after eight consecutive losses, three of which came this year alone.
The tension was evident, as Galway refused to yield without a fight, the likes of Róisín Black and Aoife Donohue among the most obdurate.
Their manager, Cathal Murray was justifiably proud and even though he was unhappy with some of referee Ray Kelly’s decisions, acknowledged that the better team had prevailed.
For Cork, it was relief but having lost those last four national finals, the celebrations will be parked very quickly.
“There’s just been days where we’re nearly over the line and they come back so until that final whistle went we weren’t going to be comfortable or let us think beyond that,” said Coppinger of her immediate emotions at the final whistle. “So it was just the next job, the next job.
“That’s what great teams do. They never go away. They’re there behind you the whole time. We’re so delighted. It hasn’t sunk in yet but semi-finals are there to be won so thankfully we got over the line.
“You can’t focus on (the losses) too much because if you’re using that to drive it you’re no good. We’re just looking to go out every day and be the best team we can possibly be.
“We had a few games this year where things just didn’t go right and we’ve taken the learnings from them every time. They sometimes say you learn more from a loss. We had a few in a row there but thankfully we’re coming good at the right time.
The biggest message at half-time is we have to work, we have to win the dirty balls ‘cos Galway are always really strong to do that. I think our forwards worked themselves into the ground today and the people that came on did the absolute same thing so it was an absolute team and panel effort.
“(Our bench) is incredible,” she concluded of the introduction of Laura Hayes, Cliona Healy, Orla Cronin, Ashling Thompson and Orlaith Cahalane. “We’re marking them in training and you can’t get around them but there’s a real mentality there at the minute, we’re nearly finishing as strong as we’re starting and that’s exactly what you need.”
Victorious manager Matthew Twomey explained that he was happy to keep his bomb squad in reserve.
“We knew we wouldn’t get 60 minutes out of them,” said Twomey. “We are happy with what we are doing. There are players also who have put in a massive shift and haven’t got any run. They would probably be on a lot of other teams.
“We can’t take any major glory for having a bench. It is because players were injured and they were coming back. But we are after creating a bench, which we never had for a long time.
“People wrote us off after we got beat in the League final and we got beaten by Waterford in the Munster championship. I think they wrote us off unfairly.
“They are after showing great heart out there, especially the second half. Even when Galway got the second goal, we stayed composed. The sign of a great team.
“We needed it badly. They’ve been a bogey team of ours. Cathal Murray has done an incredible job with them but they’ve been a bogey team for us for years and to get a win is a massive relief.
“But nothing is won. We are after beating Kilkenny, we are after beating Galway. We have nothing to show for it. We will have to go again. There is pressure all the time. It is a big job, I am well aware of it. But the players are unbelievable, they are incredible. They never say die.
“Waterford beat us already in the Munster Championship and we struggled over them last year in the semi-final. So that will keep us level-headed… we start from scratch again now.”
Murray lauded his own players and gave ample credit to Cork but just didn’t think the decisions went his team’s way.
“It’s tough,” conceded the two-time manager of the year. “Cork were probably the better team to be honest about it but we stayed in the game all the time. Best thing I can always say about the girls, they showed unbelievable heart and unbelievable character and we brought it down to a one-score game near the end.
“Our girls are a savage team. There were some unbelievable individual performances out there. We stuck with it, we just didn’t get the breaks. I thought the referee was very hard on us in the first half. I don’t give out about referees but I thought he was really hard on us in the first half.
“Even in the second half, Aoife Donohue at a crucial point in the game came out, Aoife Healy had no hurl, I don’t know how it wasn’t a free. I don’t like giving out about referees but I thought he was very harsh on us.
“At the end of the day that’s just an excuse. We probably weren’t good enough and the two goals kept us in it. We had other chances as well. Ailish (O’Reilly) hit the crossbar in the first half.
“Cork are a super team. We’ve probably had the upper hand on them the last few years. That was always going to change. They’ve been coming and they had super players off the bench as well in the last ten minutes when they needed them so best of luck to them.
“It’s going to be a great final and unfortunately we’re not there but the girls, as they always do, died with their boots on.”