By Daragh Ó Conchúir, at Croke Park
Some days it goes your way and some days it doesn’t.
Waterford lost Vikki Falconer, who had been having an All-Star season, to a serious looking leg injury after just two minutes of the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior camogie final.
The player she would have been shadowing, Cork captain Amy O’Connor scored 3-7 from ten shots. These included five points from frees, when she revealed afterwards she couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo the day before.
The three goals arrived in two minutes at the start of the second half and having already led by 1-9 to 0-3 at half-time, with Sorcha McCartan goaling for Cork and Beth Carton wide from a penalty at the other end just before the change of ends, it was game over.
O’Connor’s hat-trick took around 35 or 36 seconds longer, depending on which time-keeper you were talking to, than the three goals pilfered by Dervla Cosgrove for Antrim in the premier junior final 12 months ago, not that O’Connor cared. For a start, the St Vincent’s star had to be told she had raised the green flag three times. Now that’s concentration.
“Very proud for day for me obviously,” said O’Connor. “Come from quite a small junior club on the north side of the city. We haven’t had too much success at club level. So it is nice to be able to do something like this and represent the club and the area.
“I didn’t realise I had scored a hat-trick until somebody said it after the match which is probably a good thing because we were so focussed on the next ball, the next pass whatever it might be. That might sound clichéd but that’s the way we drove it for the last three, four months. It was a building process, everything was a process. We were adaptable the whole time and our focus was always on the next thing, the next thing.
“I actually went practising frees yesterday. I don’t think one went over the bar. I suppose you do have days where everything you hit goes over and it’s nice to have those days because they don’t come around too often.”
Many people were pleased for manager Matthew Twomey, who has had a long involvement with the squad as a selector and succeeded Paudie Murray as head man last season.
That came with its pressures but it was typical of the man that he deflected all credit to the players, having defended them to the hilt even as results went against them, such as when losing four games in succession in three competitions this year, and the last four national finals prior to this going back to Murray’s last game in charge, the 2021 All-Ireland.
“We went through a bad patch in the middle of the year and I suppose a lot of people wrote us off,” Twomey noted. “In our own way we used that as a spur. After we got beaten by Galway in Athenry (in the first game of the round-robin phase) we had a real long chat with ourselves. We were going into the Down game under pressure, the Clare game under pressure and every game we have been under ferocious pressure. Even today we were under fierce pressure coming up. These players are just incredible the more their backs were to the wall the better they got. What we got today they totally deserve. They have just been immense.
How did you manage to keep out the noise after beating Galway and Kilkenny?
Very easy because we have a lot of hurt in us. We knew if we put in a big performance, we could be close enough to it at the end. All we were concerned about were ourselves. We had a few match ups but we just concerned with our own performance. That is what we got today and it is incredible.
“(The favourites’ tag) didn’t put us off. It didn’t make a difference. The same people I suppose were cutting the daylights out of us after losing to Waterford in the Munster championship and we lost four games in a row. So we were not concerned about anything else. All we were interested in was getting silverware back to Cork.”
While the forwards were getting the plaudits, fifth goalscorer and multiple assist-provider Fiona Keating as well as Katrina Mackey also excelling, Twomey did not forget the rearguard effort that neutralised a very dangerous Cork attack.
Carton had some wonderful moments but not enough and nobody else really threatened. Libby Coppinger and Laura Treacy were monumental, while Laura Hayes backed them up well from midfield on her first start of the season, having made a brilliant recovery from a broken foot.
“The defence was unbelievable… the defence were absolutely outstanding.”
Treacy returned the compliment and emphasised the players’ trust in their mentors, even as results went against them. She also brought reminders of the motto that the Cork hurlers used to have taped to their wrist – GUL. Gach uile liathróid. Every single ball. They never looked too far ahead.
“I guess you probably do (have some doubts) individually but on a group level we always try keep it as positive as we possibly can,” said the Killeagh rock. “I would never ever doubt who management have trust in to put next to me, in front of me or behind me. I think what was really important was we stuck together. We were never far off winning any of those games, these small little percentages and we just focussed on them this year.
“I think what we really did this year is focus on each game, and actually nearly each phase in each game, back to even every moment you are on the ball, then you finish that and it’s the next one.
“We have really focused on each game as they came. We got drawn against Kilkenny in a quarter-final. One of the top three – as we are known as – were going to be out after a quarter-final. We came over them and then two weeks to reset again for Galway, so that we were going to perform and not let them kind of dictate to us.
“So I feel we kind of brought the game to every team this year and that was because we stripped everything back. I could not actually be happier sitting here, this is like a dream.”
This from a player winning her fifth All-Ireland. And she didn’t have to say it. It was written all over her face.