BY DECLAN ROONEY
The majestic long-range shooting of Doireann O’Sullivan – plus goals from Orla Finn and sub Saoirse Noonan – saw Cork back into the TG4 senior All-Ireland final after a year’s absence at the expense of Donegal at Dr Hyde Park on Saturday.
A first-half goal from Finn put Cork in control, and despite a Geraldine McLaughlin-inspired comeback, Donegal could never get close enough to the Munster champions and former minor star Noonan’s sixth goal of the championship off the bench wrapped up the win.
There was a couple of late changes before throw-in from Donegal manager Maxi Curran and he sprung Kate Keaney and Olive McCafferty from the bench, handing the duo defensive roles in front of their full-back line. What that meant was that Donegal played with three forwards: Karen Guthrie, Yvonne Bonner and Geraldine McLaughlin, but the trio were often left isolated up front, and their teammates struggled to transfer defence into attack as a result.
Faced with an ultra-defensive set-up, Cork full-back Roisin Phelan and Emma Spillane spent a lot of the opening half on the front foot as they launched attack after attack for Ephie Fitzgerald’s side. Eimear Scally opened the scoring for Cork after three minutes following a Libby Coppinger interception, and Finn tapped over a free moments later – she had earlier missed a kick she’d normally convert.
Despite struggling up front, Donegal still managed to keep in touch and after McLaughlin pointed over her shoulder ten minutes, the pick of the forwards on display, Guthrie, settled her side with an excellent score – her first of four by the interval.
The crucial score of the half went Cork’s way 12 minutes from the break though, and Finn was on hand to flick to the empty net following a driving run from skipper Ciara O’Sullivan. Guthrie responded with a free for Donegal, but Doireann O’Sullivan and Finn replied for Cork to give the Munster girls a 1-5 to 0-4 lead five minutes from half-time.
A couple of uncharacteristic wides from Yvonne Bonner and McLaughlin meant Donegal struggled to close the gap, but Guthrie’s point from a great goal chance just before the break – she couldn’t keep her shot down – meant they only trailed 1-6 to 0-5 at the break.
With the Donegal defensive line well set, Cork started to shoot from range and Doireann O’Sullivan was the first to score for the 11-time champions, although Katy Herron and Geraldine McLaughlin (twice) saw Donegal pull to within a goal by the 40th minute.
There was certainly more intensity to Donegal’s play after the break and Cork struggled to gain clean possession up front, but a couple of frees from supersub Noonan kept them two scores clear in the final quarter - and Doireann O’Sullivan landed the insurance late on.
Cork: O Finn 1-3 (3f), S Noonan 1-3 (3f), D O’Sullivan 0-3, E Scally 0-2.
Donegal: G McLaughlin 0-5 (2f), K Guthrie 0-4 (1f), K Herron 0-1, Y Bonner 0-1.
Cork: M O’Brien; R Phelan, E Meaney, M Duggan; S Kelly, A Hutchings, M O’Callaghan; D O’Sullivan, H Looney; A O’Sullivan, C O’Sullivan (c), E Spillane; L Coppinger, E Scally, O Finn.
Subs: O Farmer for Finn (36), S Noonan for A O’Sullivan (36), O Finn for Hutchings (47).
Donegal: L Gallagher; T Doherty, N McLaughlin, T McCafferty; D Foley, K Keaney, C Hegarty; AM McGlynn, O McCaffrey; K Herron, N Hegarty, SJ McDonald; K Guthrie (c), Y Bonner, G McLaughlin.
Subs: A McDonnell for McCafferty (23), E Ward for N Hegarty (43), A Boyle Carr for Keaney (48), N Hegarty for McGlynn (50).
Referee: Brendan Rice (Down)