By Daragh Ó Conchúir at Croke Park
It was eerie how similarly events unfolded to 12 months ago. Okay, it wasn’t two points turning around a one-point deficit but it was an injury-time winner nonetheless.
Agony for Kilkenny, frayed nerves but ultimate glory for Cork. Instead of Julia White it was Orla Cotter landing the killer blow – a stunning free from the left wing, 60m out in the 61st minute.
“I don’t know why we do it to ourselves, a point in it” said Gemma O’Connor, who was getting her hand on a ninth Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie medal following their 0-14 to 0-13 success.
“At half-time the message was to keep our composure. Beforehand you’re trying to get yourself riled up, to get into the right frame of mind, the fighting attitude - then at half time it’s all about ‘This is where we are now and we need to be composed.’ It’s no time to lose your head.
“We knew it’d be a tight game from start to finish. The Championship has been quite open but we knew the Final would be so defensive, we don’t give each other an inch. I don’t know what way it is to look at, sometimes you’d wish the play would open up a small bit, but you just want to win at all costs, that’s the bottom line.
“(When I was) starting out it was 15 on 15, you minded your own patch, your own player, and you capitalised on what happened next. Now it’s so tactical… I wouldn’t say it’s a negative thing, Kilkenny are at it, the lads’ footballers are at it, the hurlers are at it, it’s about outsmarting your opponent.
“But at the end of the day it’s also about the player on the ball, the decision maker, and the players making the run to create space, running to the corner flag so the ball can be hit into space. “It’s about smart people making smart decisions. This game is all about decision making.
“You asked why it’s so tight between Cork and Kilkenny - I think it’s because we’re so similar, the teams are physical, skilful, the panels show extreme skill, talent and workrate. That’s why there’s so little between us.”
The last two years though, it is Kilkenny on the wrong side of the point, even if they were on the right one in 2016. Their manager Ann Downey agreed with O’Connor on the tactical evolution that has occurred in Camogie and the inevitable caginess that results.
“That’s the nature of the game that both of us are playing” said Downey. “You have to look at the strengths of both teams – ours against theirs and try to stop them playing their game as they try to stop us playing ours.
“For the last three years, really there has been nothing between us, a point in every game we’ve played. The standard of Camogie has improved but for us today, our standard was probably only at 80 per cent. We had to get it up to 100 per cent to get over the line.”
She maintained that the hurt would be doubled from last year given that it was a last-gasp defeat once more.
“Now they go back to their clubs and you’d be hoping they have Camogie with their clubs now and it might lessen the burden for them. They’ll have a long winter now I guess. Two years in a row – they are devastated inside there. They’re just gutted.”
She wasn’t overly pleased with some of Eamon Cassidy’s officiating – the ninth minute penalty from which Aoife Murray pointed was certainly surprising, while Kilkenny might have had a penalty themselves in the second half and Downey didn’t think the free awarded to Cotter at the death was merited.
But she was magnanimous nonetheless and not looking to take away from her own side’s failings, nor the achievements of the victors.
“We missed too many chances as well. We had too many balls that fell into the goalkeeper's hand. We missed a few frees and drove a few wides that we shouldn't have.
“It's not all down to a referee, it's down to the game management when the girls get onto the pitch and on big days it's hard to expect them to hurl the whole 60 minutes and use their brain.
“All I can do is congratulate Cork. Briege Corkery winning her 18th medal – it’s a great testament to them that they can lose Rena Buckley from last year and still come back and win it again. They are a great side with great players but for us, we’ll have to go to a new level to try and beat them.”
Michelle Quilty pointed early for Kilkenny but Cork moved four clear, with Cotter getting the first two of her five points.
The challengers settled though and a 19th minute point by Julie Ann Malone brought the teams level.
While Cork moved two ahead, four points on the trot from Denise Gaule including two from outside the 65 put the Cats ahead, only for Orla Cronin to respond with a vital brace just before the short whistle and make it 0-8 apiece.
They kept that momentum going with three of the next four points, including a lovely effort by Katrina Mackey to move two ahead again but back came Kilkenny, Meighan Farrell’s fantastic shot on the run starting a run of three that saw the Cats nose ahead.
It was nip and tuck from there to the end but it was Cotter that had the last say, shooting unerringly to spark riotous celebrations for the Rebels.