BY GER McCARTHY
CORK claimed the O’Duffy Cup and back-to-back Liberty Insurance All-Ireland senior camogie titles following a remarkable year in which Enniskeane’s Orla Cronin emerged as one of the county’s standout players.
Paudie Murray’s squad overcame the loss of experienced quartet Jennifer O’Leary, Anna Geary, Joanne O’Callaghan plus Angela Walsh to win a record-equalling 26th All-Ireland championship.
Cork’s success was made even sweeter by the fact they lost the national camogie league final to Galway and twice tasted defeat in their All-Ireland championship round-robin group before embarking on a marvellous undefeated run in the knockout stages.
A terrific 12 months was rounded off by Gemma O’Connor becoming the inaugural Camogie Association/WGPA Senior Players’ Player of the Year as well as receiving an All-Star along with her team-mates Aoife Murray, Pamela Mackey, Rena Buckley, Gemma O’Connor and Ashling Thompson.
The emergence of Orla Cronin plus a clutch of new up-and-coming talent made it an extra-special campaign, something the Enniskeane forward still finds difficult to take in.
‘It’s only starting to sink in now because the weeks after winning the All-Ireland were a bit crazy,’ said the 20-year-old UCC second year Biological Sciences student.
‘It is only in the last couple of months that I’ve had a chance to sit down and think about how far I’ve come in such a short space of time. Winning an All-Ireland with such a special group of players like the Cork seniors is an incredible feeling.
‘I find it is hard to describe but the experience I have gained from playing with this panel and the training I have received from the management team has improved my game and made me a more confident player.’
As for next year, Cronin is anxious to get back involved with the Cork panel as soon as possible having just returned to the playing field for her college following a brief hiatus.
‘I’m glad to be back playing with UCC again and looking forward to getting back out on the field with Cork after a break over the last few months,’ commented Cronin.
‘My appetite and hunger to play for my county remains the same as ever and people are already mentioning three-in-a-row. The satisfaction of winning an All-Ireland drives you on to try and do it again the following year but we can only take it one game at a time.’
The opening months of Cork’s 2015 campaign were not encouraging. Losing the national league final (2-15 to 2-12) to Galway preceded a difficult opening championship group that included Wexford, Limerick, Offaly and Galway.
The Tribeswomen inflicted a second consecutive defeat on the reigning All-Ireland champions despite standout performances from Rena Buckley and Ashling Thompson. Failure to register a score in the closing ten minutes cost Cork dearly however and Galway kicked for home with Niamh McGrath contributing eight points in a 1-11 to 0-12 triumph.
‘We knew heading into the new season that Galway were always going be a tough team to overcome especially as that had improved significantly on their previous year,’ said Orla Cronin.
‘They were in the middle of a good run of form when it came to the league final and to be honest, they blew us out if it. That was definitely a wake up and a lesson for myself, as we knew that we would have to regroup and improve an awful lot before the championship started.
‘We put in a huge amount of work ahead of facing Galway in the (championship) group but we came up short by two points and naturally, we were very disappointed. Despite losing to them again, we felt we were slowly improving and getting up to championship speed.
‘Our last group game against Wexford didn’t work out for us either and we knew we had to sort ourselves out before the quarter-final, otherwise we would be out.’
That 0-13 to 0-10 loss to Wexford coupled with the coin-tossing and subsequent replay debacle between Dublin and Clare in Group 2 made it a difficult few weeks for Cork and the Camogie GAA association in general.
A terrific 2-17 to 0-10 quarter-final victory over Tipperary at Semple Stadium proved a turning point for Paudie Murray’s side and setup a repeat of the 2014 All-Ireland final with Kilkenny in the last four. Cronin got her name on the score-sheet against Tipp that afternoon with Katriona Mackey contributing 1-4 and Amy O’Connor 1-2.
Walsh Park in Waterford hosted Cork and Kilkenny’s All-Ireland semi-final on August 16th in which the defending champions produced a stirring display and scored four goals en-route to qualifying for another final. Orla Cotter had day to remember, scoring 2-3 of her side’s total in a 4-10 to 0-10 triumph.
‘As a unit, we pulled out a terrific performance to beat Kilkenny because we simply had to,’ admitted Enniskeane’s Orla Cronin.
‘We knew they possessed a serious goal threat so it was going to be one of our toughest challenges of the year. The entire squad worked exceptionally hard on a system that would prevent Kilkenny from scoring the goals and instead took the game to them.
‘There was no way we were going to allow Kilkenny back into the game once we got our noses in front.
‘That performance was a huge boost to the squad and put us in a very positive frame of mind heading into the All-Ireland final.’
And so to Croke Park for an All-Ireland showdown with old rivals Galway on September 13th. A tough, uncompromising encounter developed in which Cork defended superbly and restricted their opponents to two points from open play before eventually winning 1-13 to 0-9.
Briege Corkery netted the final’s only goal to ensure back-to-back Cork All-Ireland victories and an occasion Orla Cronin will never forget.
‘The whole All-Ireland final weekend was unbelievable because of the way we remained focused throughout the build-up and on the morning of the final I knew we couldn’t have been better prepared,’ said Cronin.
‘Beforehand, there wasn’t much said except a simple message to go out and play to win. We got off to a really good start and that was something we worked very hard on throughout the year. We prided ourselves on our work-rate throughout the championship and that really shone through against Dublin.’