Shauna Henry Int Club Captain 2013

Below Par Galway Succumb To Cork's Star Quality.   09/08/2017

All Ireland U18A Minor Championship Final.

Below Par Galway Succumb To Cork's Star Quality.

Cork 5-11 Galway 1-4

It's the morning after the night before and having just watched the TG4 recording in the silent sanctuary of my sitting room, I feel compelled to persevere with the painful process of rueful reflection for a while longer at least. Probably best to write something for posterity, get it out of the system so to speak, and then move on with the remainder of the Galway LGFA season which still has a long way to run and a lot to offer. Where to begin?


How about a famous day in Croke Park all of sixty one years ago when Galway recaptured the Sam Maguire after a lapse of seventeen years. The legendary exploits of Tuam Stars' "Terrible Twins" on that fateful day against Cork have been well documented and fondly recalled and remembered in the intervening years. I wasn't around in 1956 to bear witness to the footballing genius of Purcell and Stockwell but I am aware from past experience that history has a habit of repeating itself and so it proved to be in the Faithful county yesterday.

The only problem from a western perspective however was that on this occasion the shoe was well and truly on the other foot and it was the vociferous Rebels' supporters who enjoyed the privilege of watching Cork's modern female version of the aforementioned Galway greats. Simply put, Noonan and O Leary treated the O Connor Park patrons to a footballing masterclass in the attacking arts with clever creation and clinical execution the order of the day. This deadly duo's ruthless efficiency in front of goal had composure, arrogance and maturity written all over it and was ultimately the primary reason that Cork have now become the first county since Wexford in 1984, to complete a three in a row at this level.

 Brian O Donovan and his management team of Paul Wallace, Collette Butler, Maura Burke and Rita Kearney will be bitterly disappointed at the comprehensive one sided nature of this defeat. They went toe to toe with their more illustrious opponents from the outset, and thirteen minutes in, the Corofin man's  courageous decision  to dispense with any form of a sweeper system appeared to be well justified. Indeed, all the indications at that stage, were that this contest would go right to the wire as Galway were faring quite well overall. The Tribeswomen were level on the scoreboard having created a couple of half chances for goals inside the opening five minutes. Regina Naughton and Amy Coen were shading the midfield battle with the latter particularly prominent. The underdogs were also holding their own defensively along the half back line with  Bronagh Quinn, Linda Booth and Aoife Molloy displaying tremendous tenacity and intensity in their respective personal duels.

Laura Finnegan had opened the scoring on 2 minutes with a superb long range point from well  out on the right wing but Cork hit back four minutes later when full forward Saoirse Noonan slipped the ball through to left corner forward Sadhbh O Leary and she finished with aplomb. Galway regained the lead on 8 minutes when Amy O Donovan applied an assured finish after a neat exchange of passes involving Amy and Leanne Coen. The slender Galway lead lasted five minutes and could have been well extended during that time if their forwards had their shooting boots on. No less than six point scoring opportunities were spurned during this spell of territorial dominance and Galway's lack of a killer instinct up front merely served to spur Cork on.  

O Leary fired over a superb solo effort from out in the left corner on 13 minutes to restore parity and Cork awoke from their temporary slumber to wreck havoc thereafter. One minute later, Noonan turned provider once more with a beautifully weighted footpass which presented O Leary with a clear run on goal. Laura Hession advanced quickly to narrow the angle but to no avail and Cork were suddenly one goal to the good against the run of play.  

They almost doubled their advantage two minutes later when right corner forward Grace Culloty combined beautifully with Noonan who in turn picked out centre half forward Emma Cleary on a straight burst through the middle. She seemed certain to score but lost control of the ball at the pivotal moment and the danger was averted. Noonan converted a close range free on 17 minutes and added her first point from play two minutes later to open up a sizeable gap on the scoreboard. Sandwiched in between these two points was a top class one on one save from Laura Hession to deny Noonan whose influence and impact was growing with every passing minute.

Galway were in disarray at the this stage with Cork taking a vice like grip on proceedings. Management reacted by throwing  Andrea Trill into the fray in a bid to reignite the Galway forward division and the substitute's first intervention on 20 minutes almost resulted in the opening goal that her compatriots so badly craved. A blistering run through the heart of the Cork defence enabled her to pick out Amy Coen in front of goal. The latter was closed down quickly but still managed to offload to Leanne Coen who applied a soccer style finish only to be denied by a last ditch deflection from Cork corner back Sarah Leahy. From the resultant 45, Trill secured possession once more, cut inside the cover and let fly, only to be thwarted on this occasion by Cork midfielder Nicole Quinn who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Cork held firm, lifted the siege and pushed on relentlessly over the remaining nine minutes. A series of poor wides initially, only served to delay the inevitable and when it finally arrived on 28 minutes, it was on a scale that even the most optimistic of Cork supporters couldn't have foreseen. A rampaging run through the middle by impressive centre back Jenny Brewdinan culminated in Noonan's first goal and before Galway could draw a breath, the same player had latched on to quick free from wing forward Laura O Mahony before coolly dispatching  her second major. Culloty added an excellent individual point on the stroke of halftime to leave her shellshocked opponents  trailing by twelve points. When the  hooter sounded, the treble chasers led the pretenders by 3-5 to 0-2 and the match was all but over as a contest.

The second half was pretty much a damage limitation exercise for Brian O Donovan's beleaguered troops and they knuckled down in admirable fashion by holding Cork scoreless for the next twelve minutes. Galway needed a minimum of two quick goals to reassert their challenge but by the time they finally breached the victors last line of defence there was only six minutes left to play. Cork excelled defensively throughout the second period in terms of their tireless tracking back and energetic execution of legitimate turnovers. Allied to the above, Galway's propensity to misdirect foot passes merely played into Cork's hands and made the preservation of their unassailable lead all the easier.

The Leesiders  attack-minded half back line of Eimear Kelly, Ciara Hughes and Jenny Brewdinan were keeping the highly rated Galway half forward line of Laura Finnegan, Niamh Daly ((Kilconly) and Lindsey Noone very much on the back foot and Brewdinan capped a superb individual performance on 43 minutes with the opening point of the second half. Leanne Coen responded with a pointed free two minutes later but a brace of points from lively substitute Aisling Healy either side of Noonan's  third point eased Cork further ahead with nine minutes remaining. John Cleary's charges now lead by 3-9 to 0-3 but there would be no respite for the Connacht champions. O Leary capitalised on a defensive mix up on 52 minutes by burying a fierce low drive into the bottom right hand corner and then added a wonderful long range effort inside sixty seconds to further compound Galway's sense of woe.

To their eternal credit however, Galway never stopped trying and their honest endeavour finally bore fruit on 44 minutes when second half substitute Ciara McCarthy left a trail of Cork defenders in her wake before transferring to another substitute Niamh Daly ( St Gabriel's) and she found the top corner of the Cork net with a precise finish. McCarthy repeated the dose two minutes later and put it on a plate for Trill only for the latter to blaze her shot outside Sarah Murphy's right hand post with the goal at her mercy.

Cork were then gifted their fifth goal on 58 minutes when a misdirected free across the face of the Galway goal was intercepted by Healy who immediately spotted Noonan in glorious isolation on the edge of the square and the  predatory instincts of the LGFA Player of the Match insured that the hat trick was never in doubt. Leanne Coen countered with a well taken consolation point at the other end before Noonan rounded off proceedings with the last kick of the match, a converted close range free which brought her personal tally to 3-4. Top that up with O Leary's 2-3 and therein lies the essential difference between the two contenders for this year's All Ireland Minor crown.

At the end of the day there is no substitute for class and experience and this Cork team have  both of these essential ingredients in bucketfuls and are therefore fully deserving of all their success. At the other end of the scale, it was a disastrous day at the office for a gallant Galway team who came into this final with sound credentials on the back of a well merited semi final victory over Dublin. They didn't play anywhere near their full potential as a collective unit and were made to pay a heavy price in the final analysis.

Sport can be cruel sometimes but defeat is an integral part of the overall process which has to be embraced and managed in the appropriate manner whenever and wherever it presents itself. This is the unforseen challenge which now confronts the Galway Minor Footballers of 2018 but I have every confidence that they will not be found wanting in that department as they now return to their families and clubs to reflect and recuperate.

I wish them  every good fortune on that emotional  journey and I commend them without reservation on their outstanding contribution to Galway LGFA since the commencement of the current season. They have worn the jersey well and served their county with great distinction and pride. There is no dishonour in defeat and no better learning curve on the road to ultimate success.

Paul Gannon

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