Having answered everything asked of them this season, Galway Ladies went into Sunday's Lidl NFL division one final against Cork full of confidence.
Knowing this would be their toughest test so far, with Cork having twice overcome the All-Ireland champions Dublin, Galway were out of the blocks early, but were reeled in by an experienced Cork outfit who deservedly went on to win their 12th division league title.
The final scoreline of 1-12 to 2-7 shows Galway were close to completing the job and claiming their first league title, but having fallen behind 1-10 to 0-5 with 15 minutes remaining, left Galway with an uphill battle. Yet, they went for broke, scoring 2-2 to Cork’s two points with a second-half penalty save also thrown into the mix, but it was not enough in the end.
“We didn’t shy away from the responsibility that we had today to perform,” said manager Tim Rabbitte. “We couldn’t say that we did perform and I am disappointed for the girls because I know how hard they have worked for it. We will lick our wounds for a couple of days, but we will back at it very soon. We have a Connacht championship to prepare for. This was only another step in the journey.”
As they have done so often this year Rabbitte’s team raced out of the blocks, dominating the opening stages of the game before Cork settled, but Cork worked their way into the game and took a narrow 0-7 to 0-5 lead into the half-time break.
Tracey Leonard scored her first point in the fourth minute, but missed two other attempts from frees, and when Orla Finn tied things up for the first time, Roisin Leonard tapped over her opening free before Ciara O’Sullivan hit back for Cork.
The Munster outfit took the lead for the first time in the 16th minute when Libby Coppinger scored for a 0-3 to 0-2 advantage, and Finn scored her second to make it a double-scores lead in the 20th minute after Galway's Mairéad Seoighe was awarded a yellow card when she collided with Hannah Looney off the ball.
Although down to 14 players, Galway scored the next two points through Megan Glynn and Roisin Leonard, but Cork soon cancelled them out by Finn and Eimear Scally.
Roisin Leonard halved the deficit when Cork's Aishling Hutchings was yellow carded in the 29th minute when she fouled Leonard, but Cork never went away, scoring last in the half with Ciara O’Sullivan securing a two-point interval lead.
Galway started the second half like the first, forcing a penalty when half-time substitute Leanne Coen was fouled after six minutes, Roisin Leonard stepped up for the shot, but it was saved by O’Brien in goal, providing a real fillip for the Cork side who immediately went down the field and scored 1-3 without reply, the goal a superb side-footed effort by Hannah Noonan.
The stuffing appeared to be knocked out of Galway who were trailing by eight points. Yet, they fought back valiantly with a goal from the excellent Charlotte Cooney, while Cork were reduced to 13 with yellow cards for both Niamh Cotter and Ciara O’Sullivan.
Further scores from Tracey Leonard and Lucy Hannon still left Galway with too much to do, and a magnificent goal from Louise Ward came just too late for her team to finish their fightback.
Cork : M O’Brien; C O’Shea, H Looney, M Duggan; M O’Callaghan, E Kiely, S Kelly; N Cotter, A Hutchings; C O’Sullivan, O Farmer, D Kiely; E Scally, L Coppinger, O Finn. Subs: E Meaney for D Kiely (39 ), for S Noonan for O’Callaghan (39 ), R Ní Bhuachalla for Coppinger (47 ), E Spillane for E Kiely (50 ),
Galway: L Murphy; S Molloy, F Cooney, S Lynch; O Murphy, S Burke, C Cooney; L Ward, B Hannon; O Divilly, T Leonard, M Glynn; M Seoighe, S Conneally, R Leonard. Subs: L Coen for Seoighe (half-time ), Á McDonagh for Conneally (44 ), L Hannon for Glynn (50 ), M Coyne for B Hannon (58 ).
Referee: M Farrelly (Cavan ).