By Daragh Ó Conchúir at Croke Park
Cork manager Matthew Twomey admitted that his overriding emotion was one of relief after his side recovered from a slow start to dominate much of the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior camogie quarter-final, only to have to withstand a late Kilkenny/Denise Gaule rally before prevailing by the minimum margin that has so often applied in this magnificent rivalry.
In the opposite corner, Brian Dowling spoke of his immense pride as the champions hauled themselves back up off the canvas a number of times before finally giving way.
“We put ourselves in a great position at the end of the game,” said Twomey. “There was a few core opportunities we flipped up and that nearly cost us. We were shouting at them to take the points to keep the scoreboard ticking.
“We were five points up and we’d two goal opportunities. Instead of taking points, we went for goals, which would have killed the game. But you need the scores as you can’t put away a team like Kilkenny as we saw when they got the goal. The crowd got behind them but a small bit of composure from our lads, it stood to us.
“Our conversion rate today wasn’t good. We started slow, were making a lot of silly mistakes, basic errors. But we got a bit of momentum and we got the goal and we should have got another two goals again. We were lucky to get away with it today.
“All we wanted was the result. You wouldn’t be overly happy with the display but it was about the result. Kilkenny are a fantastic team. They showed it out there. When things were going wrong they still had the composure to come back and could have snatched the draw.
“There was talk about our character after losing (big games). We never questioned the character of the team but today I thought they showed a lot of composure. But if we can get a top performance – the scores we left behind us – if we can get them converted, we’ll be hard to beat.”
An Aoife Prendergast goal in the 14th minute gave the Cats an early five-point advantage but Cork’s running game began to click into gear and Amy O’Connor bulged the net six minutes later after good work by Fiona Keating.
Cork should have had at least two more goals, as Aoife Norris saved from Katrina Mackey in the second half and Grace Walsh cleared off the line from O’Connor, though the Cork skipper should have had a penalty after being clearly fouled by Norris.
The Rebels led by 1-8 to 1-6 at the break and Mackey, who had scored two lovely first-half points, raised a green flag less than five minutes after the restart.
Kilkenny replied with four points on the trot, including a phenomenal effort by Gaule to put one between them but that’s when Twomey used his bench effectively. Cliona Healy fired two big points and Orla Cronin, Laura Hayes and Ashling Thompson also came into the fray, the latter for her first appearance of the year after recovering from a cruciate ligament injury.
Cork looked to have it in the bag when going five ahead once more but a sensational goal by Gaule followed by a free left from the player of the match, who finished with 1-10, left the game on a knife edge. But the Leesiders held on.
“I’m just so proud of them for the way they stayed fighting,” said Dowling of his charges.
“I think Denise Gaule epitomises this team, the character she showed there. I don’t know how she got in for that goal. The composure she showed with five Cork players behind her. She’s been a huge leader and she’s worn that jersey with pride over the years as have all those girls.
“I believe in these girls. Once we got the goal it was definitely thee for us. We had chances.
“But the one thing I said to the girls during the week and this morning was stay fighting as long as you can. Whatever happens, that’s all you can do and I can’t ask for any more.
“It could have been a free (at the end) but I was more disappointed with the injury time. It was four minutes and Cork have a free and it takes a minute and a half to take the free. I think there should be another minute added on. That’s the frustrating thing. We were pushing at that stage.
“Cork are a super team. Matthew Twomey is a great manager and I’ve great respect for him. We got lucky breaks last year. We thought the game was going away from us and Sophie (O’Dwyer) got the goal. That’s sport. It’s cruel when you lose.”