A newfound ability to react positively to events in a game stood to Galway’s credit when Cork scored that crucial goal late on in Sunday’s All Ireland Senior Camogie Final, captain Sarah Dervan revealed in the aftermath of the county’s fourth senior title this evening.
Without having relinquished the lead throughout the game, the Leesiders threatened to derail Galway’s challenge when Katrina Mackey’s rocket from the right sent her side ahead for the first time. But, whereas previous Galway teams might have been mortally wounded by such an event, this Galway side is made of sterner stuff and hit back to lift the title in dramatic style detonating a sea of maroon around Croke Park.
It was heart-stirring stuff and saw an otherwise disappointing Galway GAA year end in glory with momentous scenes of joy and celebration on the pitch and in the stands.
Captain Sarah Dervan spoke about the response to the late Cork goal.
“You can only control how you want to react and years gone by, we reacted in the wrong way. This year we said we said we are going to react the way we want to, no matter what Cork throw at us. So we drove on and it put a bit of belief back into us and we dug rally deep and we are so delighted to be on the right side of it.
“Our management team are unbelievable. They have brought Galway camogie to an elite level. Robbie Lane has been exceptional as our S&C coach and Cathal always demands the best for us. We always get fed, and treated the way any county hurling team would and that is huge. He never let us down and fought for us, and because of Cathal and his team, we are here as All-Ireland champions.”
She said the game this year was very similar to last year in that they were in the mix until the 53rd minute when that controversial penalty changed matters.
“We didn’t react the way we wanted to that night last December, and our goal was to get back to the All-Ireland, and that when we did, we were going to fight for our lives. And that’s what we did. We had the belief that if you work hard, you win, and that’s what we did.”
She paid tribute to the influence of Orla Kilkenny and Therese Maher to the backroom team.
“They provide us with a unique insight, so to have both of them involved is a massive boost.”
“Last year, it was silence and you could hear yourself in the games, so it is fantastic to have supporters back, to have kids there and for them to see us winning, it is great for them and huge for the game. It brought the game to another level and hopefully, it will be them some day.”
Goalkeeper Sarah Healy who made several key interventions, including a fantastic block from Katrina Mackey, said she had no fears of losing, even after Cork scored their goal.
“Not really, I knew coming up that we were going to win. I just had that feeling that we were going to win today, so when they got the goal and we went back down and got our goal and then got another score, I then thought, we are going to be ok. We’re coming back.
“It is always good to play in Croke Park and win an All-Ireland. It is something special. You need to cherish them all. It is definitely the highlight of my year anyway.”
“The atmosphere was amazing, the screams there were when we came out. I could barely hear anyone talking to me. Last December was eerie, was dark and was cold and then we lost, so it was ten times worse, but to have family and friends in here and to win an All-Ireland especially for them, the twenty minutes afterwards is something else.”
She was full of praise for her defenders who battled strongly throughout against a lively Cork forward line.
“They got all the blocks and hooks today, which was great.”
“We believe in our camp that we are a great team. From the loss of last year we knew we were good enough to come back. That from the work we do, we can push on and win two or three. We have the players. It would be a shame if we hadn’t won this, but we did.”
She praised the impact that Cathal Murray has had on the team over the past few years.
“He is something else. Cathal has brought Galway camogie way further than it ever was. We were always knocking on semi-final stages, struggling to get to the final and then if we got to the final, struggling to compete. He came in and the people he brought with him, have brought us so far. We can go much further than this.”
Manager Cathal Murray said he was hugely proud of the team.
“Their reaction to the goal was immense. That was the first time Cork led in that game. There are plenty of places to hide in Croke Park if you want to after a goal like that, but the girls stood up. We talked about if something like happened in a game and their reaction was super. We outscored them 1-4 to 0-1 for the remainder of the game. All day their workrate, aggression and intensity were impressive and you need that to beat a team like Cork.”
“It’s massive. Two All-Irelands in three years. Delighted to be working with them. We needed to go toe to toe with Looney and Thompson after seeing how good they were in their semi-final. It was a great battle; Niamh Kilkenny and Aoife Donohue deserve great credit for the work they did. It was a joy to watch for any neutral.”
“We spoke at halftime about the important third quarter and how that had played out against Kilkenny in the last final, and straightaway after the break, Niamh Kilkenny went out and scored an unbelievable point. That’s the kind of leadership you want.
“We got a lot of turnovers in the last few minutes and you need that. We wanted to make it a battle and in fairness to the referees, they let the game flow. Liz did a wonderful job. In fairness, we have a good bunch of officials and finals and games are a lot better because of that.”
He said that to win two titles in three years is special, but he stopped short of labelling them great.
“For me, the great teams win back to back titles, the likes of Wexford and Cork and this is now the challenge for this team. But there are other teams coming, like Tipp. We need to win another All-Ireland if we want to be named a great team.”
But they are well on their way and it was a forward with experience of late scores that got them back in front late on with a shot that seemed to take an age to roll into the net. Siobhán McGrath netted when Sarsfields became All-Ireland club champions in 2020 and she struck gold here again.
It came as Galway rescued what looked a lost situation when Katrina Mackey sent a thunderbolt to the roof of their net in the 49th minute.
That made it 1-11 to 0-11 but from that juncture forward, Galway outscored the Munster crew by 1-4 to 0-1. Murray’s side had already reduced the margin to one when McGrath finished delicately beyond the advancing Amy Lee in the 56th minute, after the excellent Ailish O’Reilly had broken the line and provided the ideal pass.
Orla Cronin, freed to play after a late night ruling, made it a one-point game but as Cork poured forward, Galway forced some huge turnovers and capitalised on the space, McGrath’s sister Orlaith fired over two match-winning points.
Galway brought in Carrie Dolan to make her first appearance since suffering a serious knee injury in the opening game against Westmeath, with Niamh Hanniffy dropping to the bench and Aoife Donohue brought in to stiffen the midfield partnership with Niamh Kilkenny that drove Galway to victory two years ago.
It was a game befitting an All-Ireland final with phenomenal quality in terms of physicality, skill and stamina and while it could have gone either way with a different bounce of a ball or the difference of a blocked pass here or there, it was difficult to argue against the eventual result given how Galway had led for most of the affair.
It was a storming start for Galway. Dolan scored two frees and Siobhán McGrath hit the first of her two first half points. O’Reilly cut in from the left to fire over from 40m soon after and it was a dream opening.
Gradually, Cork chiselled their way back into it, with great thanks to their midfield pairing of Ashling Thompson and Hannah Looney, the latter in particularly taking the battle to the opposition and close to the best player in red throughout the nigh-on 70 minutes.
Thompson ran onto a break from a Lee puckout to get the Rebels off the mark without breaking stride. McGrath replied before Sarah Healy was forced into an tremendous save from Mackey, after Cronin had drawn the cover.
Cronin hit a brilliant score soon after, the first of three consecutive points for Cork, the other two quite superb efforts from Looney.
Galway’s defenders had to make a number of interceptions with the Leesiders creating overlaps, one from Dervla Higgins – herself released to play after being sent off in error in the semi-final – from Amy O’Connor almost assuredly preventing a goal.
O’Connor was looking lively and she clipped a nice point, while Cronin was very evident in general play too, a testament to the strength of her mentality after her week.
Her shooting from placed balls was not so good though and she shot four first-half wides form frees. One was a straightforward attempt to equalise and it was punished as Kilkenny hit the target at the other end.
Scores from Cronin (free ) and Mackey, after Cronin had somehow stolen possession, brought Cork level for the first time but an inspirational score by Donohue on the run from wide on the right gave Galway the edge at the break, 0-9 to 0-8.
Ding dong battle
The third quarter was a real arm wrestle with very little scoring. It wasn’t from the lack of opportunities – there were plenty - but both sets of defences shone, Libby Coppinger and Shauna Healy just two that came up with some massive plays. And when it was necessary to take a yellow card, they did that too.
Kilkenny extended Galway’s advantage when somehow escaping a phalanx of Cork defenders but Paudie Murray’s charges remained threatening without translating half-chances to scores, most notably when O’Connor blocked Sarah Healy but shot wide from a narrow angle.
Cronin punished a foul on O’Connor and repeated that trick after Dolan had slotted from a free to leave a point between them at the water break, 0-11 to 0-10, though it had taken a miraculous block from Looney to deny Dolan a goal just before that.
Cronin arced over a beauty from the right, after excellent work by the tireless Saoirse McCarthy and the teams were level.
Collins had been introduced five minutes after the restart and was again a reliable outlet with her assured handling. The captain came up with a massive play to set up Mackey’s goal, winning a ball she had no right to, carrying and then delivering the perfectly weighted handpass.
Mackey still had a bit to do coming in from the right but the Douglas forward unleashed a rocket that gave the diving Sarah Healy no chance.
Galway fans groaned at the unfairness of it, but Dolan converted a free with her last act of the game before being withdrawn, having made a vital contribution after so long out injured and O’Reilly took over the placed ball duties, just finding the inside side of the post soon after.
And it was the Oranmore-Maree attacker who provided the vital assist for the match-deciding score, giving McGrath that split-second she needed to transfer sliotar to hurley to angle a shot to the net.
Cork had contributed splendidly to a wonderful occasion, and surely one of the highest-standard finals in the history of camogie.
But it was Galway who lifted the O’Duffy Cup. And now the race for greatness begins.
Scorers for Galway: C Dolan 0-6(fs ); S McGrath 1-2; N Kilkenny, O McGrath, A O’Reilly(1f ) 0-2 each, A Donohue 0-1.
Scorers for Cork: O Cronin 0-6(4fs ); K Mackey 1-1; H Looney 0-2; A Thompson, C Sigerson, A O’Connor 0-1 each.
GALWAY: Sarah Healy, D Higgins, Shauna Healy, s Dervan, C Cormican, E Helebert, S Gardiner, N Kilkenny, A Donohue, C Dolan, S Spellman, C Finnerty, O McGrath, S McGrath, A O’Reilly.
Subs: N Hanniffy for Finnerty (ht ), R Hennelly for Dolan (51 ), A Starr for Cormican (60 ), N Coen for Spellman (60+1 ).
CORK: A Lee, P Mackey, L Coppinger, M Cahalane, L Hayes, L Treacy, S McCarthy, H Looney, A Thompson, C O’Sullivan, F Keating, C Sigerson, K Mackey, A O’Connor, O Cronin.
Subs: L Collins for O’Sullivan (36 ), C Healy for Keating (59 ).
REFEREE: Liz Dempsey (Kilkenny ).