BY NIALL SHERRY
Cork advance to league decider
Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League Division 1
Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork
Conditions were the winner on a horrible day on Leeside last Saturday, as Cork and Kilkenny played out a low scoring draw in the final group game of the Littlewoods Ireland League.
Despite this being a league game, some of the tackling and challenges on display, were more akin to that of championship camogie, but that’s what you get when these two old foes clash.
Going into the match at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Kilkenny knew that only victory would see them secure a league final berth on April 9th. The home side on the other hand, with a much superior scoring difference, knew that if they avoided defeat, that berth would be theirs.
Brian Dowling made three changes to the team listed, with Aoife Doyle, Miriam Bambrick and Michelle Teehan drafted into the starting XV, in place of Katie Nolan, Laura Norris and Lydia Fitzpatrick.
The stripey women had the wind advantage in the opening period as they attacked the city end of the ground. They got off to a fast start when Tullaroan’s Miriam Walsh burst through the Cork defence and was fouled, but with the ref’s advantage played on and slotted over a lovely point to open the scoring.
Denise Gaule doubled her sides lead some 30 seconds later from the placed ball, after a high tackle on James Stephens club woman, Niamh Deely. This physical approach was a constant theme throughout the game, Davy Fitzgerald has certainly added that to the rebel camogs.
Some scrappy play ensued for the next number of minutes, before Aghabullogue’s Cliona Healy popped over a free to register Cork’s first point of the day on 8 minutes. Shortly after this came a worrying moment for Kilkenny. Kellyann Doyle went down injured and had to be replaced by O’Loughlin’s Laura Murphy.
Piltown’s Katie Power need rifled over a nice point from play on 13 minutes, to extend the visitors lead to 2 points, before the all-action Miriam Walsh did likewise just a minute later. The game was very scrappy, again due to a combination of the conditions and the ‘Davy’ influenced style that the home side were adopting.
Matthew Twomey’s side then created a great chance for a goal. Some nice team play saw the ball played into Cliona Healy who head straight for the Kilkenny goal, only to be denied by an outstanding save from one of the best goalkeepers around, Piltown’s Aoife Norris.
Cork were pulling most players back within their own half and trying to counter attack when they won the sliotar back. They hunted in two’s & three’s and put serious pressure on any Kilkenny player in possession. Their out-ball was normally into their No.14, Sorcha McCartan. The former Down player has been showing well since switching allegiances to the rebels. The daughter of former Down All-Ireland winner Greg McCartan, Sorcha is looking like a very useful addition to the Cork cause.
Another point from the placed ball by Ciona Healy reduced the arrears to 2 points, as both sides struggled to read the wind that was blowing a gale in the stadium. A great surging run from Aisling Thompson left Barrow Rangers Miriam Bambrick in her wake, and the Milford woman slotted over a lovely point for her county’s third point. Cork were crowding out the visitor’s midfield and making it very difficult for the opposition to build any momentum and in doing so, they restricted Kilkenny’s ability to use the wind advantage.
Neither side registered a score between the 18th & 27th minutes, as both teams hit 2 wide’s each as many disjointed passages of play became the over-riding feature of the match.
This period of scrappiness was broken when Lisdowney’s Claire Phelan struck a monster score from the Cork ‘65 line for what was to be Kilkenny’s final score of the opening half. The home side would also add just one more point, again from the hurl of Cliona Healy, again from the placed ball.
Halftime score, Cork 0-4, Kilkenny 0-5.
The second period would see Cork with the howling wind at their backs and only a 1-point deficit to claw back. The rebels would come out of the traps at speed once play resumed following the interval.
Amy O’Connor, who had been relatively quiet in the first half, played a delightful ball in behind the Kilkenny full-back line. The alert Katrina Mackey ran beyond the defence and capitalised on some hesitation by Aoife Norris to fire the ball to the Kilkenny net. The leesider’s were now 2 points up in the blink of an argumentative Davy Fitz eye!
Kilkenny were rocked. From the puck out, Cliona Healy picked up the ball and pointed for her first score from play. Brian Dowling’s team tried to mount an attack straight after, but this was broken up by some tigerish tackling by the Cork defence. The home side worked the ball from back to front quickly and when it arrived with Aisling Thompson, she duly fired it over for a well-worked score. From a point down, to four ahead, it was looking like a home victory was on the cards.
The Cats got the chance to reduce the deficit, when Cork were harshly adjudged to have over-carried. Windgap’s Densie Gaule sent the free over the bar to make it a one-score game on 43 minutes. Kilkenny needed an injection of energy and pace, and sent on St Martin’s attacking star, Katie Nolan and Clara’s Mary O’Connell.
Following some uncharacteristic misses from the placed ball by Denise Gaule, Katie Nolan stepped up to hit one on 50 minutes, and sent it over to make it a 2-point game. The Cork defence were struggling with the pace and direct style of both Nolan & O’Connell, and it would be these two players that combined on 52 minutes to give Kilkenny a lifeline. Katie picked the ball up and ran hard towards the Cork goal. Having beaten a number of defenders, she passed to Mary O’Connell who was illegally halted en-route to goal, PENALTY! Denise Gaule stepped up and hit an unstoppable shot past Cork captain Amy Lee for a much-needed goal. Brian Dowling’s charges were now 1-point ahead. Funny old game.
Referee McDonagh from Galway the harshly blew-up Laura Murphy for over-carrying. Killeagh’s Chloe Sigerson duly fired over the free from some 45 metres out to level matters.
Then came another horrible moment for Kilkenny. Tullaroan’s Grace Walsh appeared to pick up a nasty looking injury and was helped from the pitch, appearing to be in some discomfort.
The dynamic duo of O’Connell & Nolan then combined again to cause panic in the Cork defence, before the latter was crudely stopped in her tracks. Denise Gaule fired over the free to send her side into a 1-point lead in additional time.
Cork knew they needed a score to not only draw the game, but to secure a final berth. They drove at the Kilkenny defence and this ended with Douglas’s Katrina Mackey being fouled. A high pressure free. Step forward Chloe Sigerson who made no mistake and brought the sides level again.
Aoife Norris restarted play, but the long whistle sounded moments later. The sides could not be separated. All square in the puddles of Pairc Ui Chaoimh. 1-8 apiece. Cork advance to the Littlewoods Ireland National League Final on April 9th. For Brian Dowling and Co. Championship preparations can well and truly begin.
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
1-8 would very rarely win you many matches. It would prove a costly low score as Brian Dowling’s team lost out on a league final place by virtue of scoring difference.
The elements were always going to make last Saturday’s encounter more difficult. the water on the pitch, the howling strong wind, it was never going to be pretty.
More worrying than the result, could be the injuries sustained by Kellyann Doyle and Grace Walsh. Brian Dowling will be hoping that both players will be fully recovered in time for championship camogie.
For Kilkenny, the displays from Niamh Deely and Tiffany Fitzgerald will have been pleasing for the management team. The injection of pace and energy that Katie Nolan and Mary O’Connell provided when introduced during the second half, showed what a championship starting XV will have.
Claire Phelan has the necessary attributes to be a dedicated sweeper, she reads the game extremely well & can talk those around her through the game.
Miriam Walsh was proving a handful for the Cork defence, but she needed more players in and around her last week.
Since Davy Fitzgerald linked up with Cork, once could foresee a more defensive structure, but it certainly won’t be as pleasing on the eye during Paudie Murray’s tenure. Cork needs to be careful that Davy’s involvement doesn’t undermine the manager’s reign or overshadow proceedings on the pitch.
Plenty for the backroom team to work on as they ramp up preparations for this year’s championship. The tools are there, they just need to sharpen up and play like we know they can. Rest assured, this panel will be there or there abouts come the business end of the season.