By Daragh Ó Conchúir at Croke Park
Finola Neville was grinning from ear to ear and unsurprisingly so, having been a part of the Cork team that lost the last two Liberty Insurance Intermediate Camogie Finals, and 12 months ago after a replay.
They made no mistake this time, Caitriona Collins shooting 1-6 and Minor star Saoirse McCarthy four points from play against a Down side who were excellent in the first half but had fallen seven points in arrears when ace forward Sara-Louise Carr was harshly sent off for a second yellow card in the 50th minute.
Cork were sharper for longer though and deserved the honours as they finished 1-13 to 0-9 to the good.
“Unbelievable” said Neville, who set up Collins’ crucial 40th minute goal. “I was just saying to the girls, ‘Is this after happening? Is it real?’ We’ve been fighting for this, to get over the line and get up the steps of the Hogan Stand for so long and it’s just unbelievable. It’s a great feeling.”
“The hunger is there. We knew coming back each year, we were there or thereabouts. We were unlucky over the last few years but we knew we had the players.
“There’s a huge workrate and a huge bond, as Sarah Harrington said in her speech. We’re best friends. When we got knocked down, we were coming back to get that title.”
She had a particular word of praise for the members of the All-Ireland-winning Minor team that clearly added an x-factor on the biggest stage.
“They were fantastic today. Laura (Hayes), Saoirse played unbelievable on the wing, player of the match today. Cliona Healy came on in the Semi-Final and probably saved us. There’s a great future there for Cork Camogie and the Minors really stood up today, which was very important.”
Down manager Martina Rooney was proud of her charges but displeased with some of John Dermody’s decision-making.
“There are no words right now” said Rooney. “We were going well in fits and starts. We seemed to get things a lot tougher than the opposition. They were getting maybe frees a lot easier than we were.
“As for the sending off… It’ll be interesting to see that again. I don’t think either one of them were yellow cards not to mind the second one – I thought it was a free for us. A yellow card offence, most definitely not.
“We never gave up, we fought to the bitter end and kept at it. I suppose Dearbhla (Magee) going off (with a blood injury) unsettled us a wee bit. We had come out of the blocks really well.
“I’m incredibly proud of the girls. I couldn’t ask any more of them. Not all fairytales have happy endings. To be here and part of the occasion is amazing. We’ll maybe not appreciate it today or tomorrow or next week but the girls will look back on this and learn from it and come back stronger.”
Down began brilliantly with early points from Carr and Saoirse Sands, and in Niamh Mallon, had a player fitting of a showpiece affair.
McCarthy had the teams level but Down moved three ahead with Mallon on fire, her point from tight on the left, 60m out from the posts a wonder score.
They failed to score in the second quarter though and Cork went into the dressing rooms leading by 0-7 to 0-5.
Mallon and Sands restored parity within five minutes of the restart but it was all Cork from there, Paudie Murray’s crew leading by three when Collins rocketed the net and there was no way back.