On the day that the first Galway team to ever win the O’Duffy Cup was honoured, the Tribeswomen returned to the top for the fourth time after beating Cork in a thrilling final.
It was Siobhán McGrath who scored the crucial goal when Sarsfields ended Slaughtneil’s dominance as All-Ireland club champions in 2020 and the flying forward came up with the defining major once again.
It came as Galway rescued what looked a perilous situation when Katrina Mackey sent a thunderbolt to the roof of their net in the 49th minute.
That made it 1-11 to 0-11 but from that juncture forward, Galway outscored the Munster crew by 1-4 to 0-1 and when one considers that they began the game with four points inside minutes, it was those bursts that proved definitive.
Cathal Murray’s side had already reduced the margin to one when McGrath finished delicately beyond the advancing Amy Lee in the 56th minute, after the excellent Ailish O’Reilly had broken the line and provided the consummate pass.
Orla Cronin, who was magnificent after being cleared to play in the early hours of the morning by the DRA, made it a one-point game but as Cork poured forward, Galway forced some huge turnovers and capitalised on the space, McGrath’s sister Orlaith hitting two big points to ensure it was Galway’s day.
It was a game befitting an All-Ireland final with phenomenal quality in terms of physicality, skill and stamina and while it could have gone either way with a different bounce of a ball or the difference of a blocked pass here or there, it was difficult to argue against the eventual result given how Galway had led for most of the affair.
Gradually, Cork chiselled their way into the game, with great thanks to their midfield pairing of Ashling Thompson and Hannah Looney, the latter in particularly taking the battle to the opposition and close to the best player in red throughout the nigh-on 70 minutes.
O’Connor was looking lively, and she clipped a nice point, while Cronin was very evident in general play too, a testament to the strength of her mentality after her week.
Her shooting from placed balls was not so good though and she shot four first-half wides form frees. One was a straightforward attempt to equalise and it was punished as Kilkenny hit the target at the other end.
Scores from Cronin and Mackey, after Cronin had somehow stolen possession, brought Cork level for the first time but an inspirational score by Donohue on the run from wide on the right gave Galway the edge at the break, 0-9 to 0-8.
Kilkenny extended Galway’s advantage when somehow escaping a phalanx of Cork defenders but Paudie Murray’s charges remained threatening without translating half-chances to scores, most notably when O’Connor blocked Sarah Healy but shot wide from a narrow angle.
Cronin punished a foul on O’Connor and repeated that trick after Dolan had slotted from a free to leave a point between them at the water break, 0-11 to 0-10, though it had taken a miraculous block from Looney to deny Dolan a goal just before that.
Collins had been introduced five minutes after the restart and was again a reliable outlet with her assured handling. The captain came up with a massive play to set up Mackey’s goal, winning a ball she had no right to, carrying and then delivering the perfectly weighted handpass.
Mackey still had a bit to do coming in from the right but the Douglas forward unleashed a howitzer that gave Sarah Healy absolutely no chance.
Croke Park shook but crucially, Galway did not. Dolan converted a free with her last act of the game before being withdrawn, having made a vital contribution after so long on the treatment table, and O’Reilly took over the placed ball duties, just finding the inside side of the post soon after.
Ailish O’Reilly provided the vital assist for the match-deciding score, giving McGrath that split-second she needed to transfer sliotar to hurley to angle a shot to the net.
Cork had contributed splendidly to a wonderful occasion, and surely one of the highest-standard finals in the history of camogie.
But it was Galway who took the spoils.
Scorers for Galway: C Dolan 0-6(fs); S McGrath 1-2; N Kilkenny, O McGrath, A O’Reilly(1f) 0-2 each, A Donohue 0-1
Scores for Cork: O Cronin 0-6(4fs); K Mackey 1-1; H Looney 0-2; A Thompson, C Sigerson, A O’Connor 0-1 each