Galway made a serious statement of intent at Semple Stadium, as they followed up an easy semi-final victory over champions Kilkenny, by beating All-Ireland victors Cork 2-15 t0 2-12 to claim their first Irish Daily Star Camogie League Division 1 title in 10 years writes Daragh Ó Conchúir.
Cork had conceded just 41 points in five games to date in the competition but their packed defensive system was ripped the shreds in the first half, as Galway took them for 2-10, with only one point of that coming from a placed ball.
The Tribeswomen have had a tendency to fade in the second half of games this season, probably a product of their youth, and they repeated that in the second half, allowing an 11-point interval advantage to be whittled down to three by the final whistle.
“It was a poor show from Galway in the second half” said Galway manager, Tony Ward. “It’s something for seven weeks’ time when we play Cork again (in the championship) we won’t get away with.
“We ran at Cork in the first half. They played our game in the second half. Thanks be to God we’d enough scored to keep in front of them. They’re not All-Ireland champions for nothing and they proved it there in the second half they’re a serious side.
“The average age of this (Galway) team is 22. When we won the All-Ireland in 2013, we’re missing 13 of that panel through retirements and injuries. So it’s great for a young team like that, to win a final like this today and hold on under pressure like that.”
Apart from a cagey opening, which saw the sides level at 0-2 each, Galway were dominant in every sector for most of the game. Even when Cork came with two early second-half goals, they were a result of long clearances rather than well-crafted scores, and they didn’t make any further leeway until scoring three late points.
By and large, the Leeside forwards were starved of a quality supply, where by contrast, Galway managed to feed wonderful low ball to their forwards and get them in space, despite being faced with up to 10 defending players at times.
Captain Niamh Kilkenny drove them forward, while Niamh McGrath, her sister Orlaith and Ailish O’Reilly were on fire. Niamh McGrath hand-passed to the net for Galway’s first goal in the 10th minute but the score was all about Kilkenny, who won possession 50m out and beat three defenders before feeding the centre-forward who showed good control and strength to finish.
O’Reilly effected two blocks to set up scores for herself and Orlaith McGrath and though the latter was forced off with what looked like a knee injury, Galways were undeterred as O’Reilly and Niamh McGrath extended the margin to seven.
Cork were heavily reliant on Orla Cotter for scores from frees and she landed two of her eight points but O’Reilly set up Molly Dunne for a goal six minutes from half time and with Kilkenny adding a couple of wonderful points, Galway led by 2-10 to 0-5 at the change of ends.
Cork needed a goal and they had one after 43 seconds when skipper Ashling Thompson drove through the middle and fed Julia White, who in turn transferred to Katrina Mackey. The All-Star attacker blasted a ferocious shot to the net.
Amy O’Connor showed her predatory instincts when racing onto a long clearance from Thompson and flicking the sliotar past the advancing Susan Earner before slotting to an empty net. Cotter converted a point and suddenly it was a five-point game.
McGrath settled Galway with a brace of frees and the margin was six until the last five minutes when subs Hannah Looney and Orla Cronin hit the target for Cork and Cotter landed her last free.
Time ran out for the rallying Munster girls though and Galway held on for a deserved victory.
Scorers –Galway: N McGrath 1-7(0-3fs, 0-1pen); N Kilkenny 0-4; M Dunne 1-0; O McGrath, A O’Reilly 0-2 each
Cork: O Cotter 0-8(fs); K Mackey 1-1; A O’Connor 1-0, B Corkery, H Looney, O Cronin 0-1 each
Cork: A Lee, L Callanan, L Treacy, L O’Sullivan, E O’Sullivan, P Mackey, M Cahalane, R Buckley, A Thompson, O Cotter, F Neville, J White, A O’Connor, B Corkery, K Mackey. Subs: G O’Connor for Neville (ht), H Looney for Callanan (46), O Cronin for White (51)
Galway: S Earner, T Kenny, S Dervan, H Cooney, S Coen, S Healy, L Ryan, N Kilkenny, E Kilkelly, A Donohue, N McGrath, AM Starr, O McGrath, M Dunne, A O’Reilly. Subs: F Keeley for O McGrath inj (17), J Gill for Starr (54)
Referee: O Elliott (Antrim)