It was notable how Galway manager Cathal Murray eschewed anything more than a cursory acknowledgement of his players’ first-half failings in their Quarter-Final victory against Waterford. That isn’t to say that the players didn’t hear all about it in the dressing room at the interval or again at training since.
But Murray praised Waterford, and rightly so, for the Déise found a new level of performance and maturity.
What’s more, he emphasised the brilliance of his players after the resumption, indicating his belief that they are the equal or better of anyone when hitting top form, and that they possess the necessary mental fortitude to turn things around during a game.
While the former had never been in question, it was doubted whether Galway possessed sufficient self-belief, or a capacity to reverse their fortunes in real time. They do look to have become a steelier crew, physically and mentally since Murray came into the fold after last year’s National League.
Certainly, the manner in which they fended off the Kilkenny rally in the League Final in March and overcame a significant wobble to finish strongly and take the spoils was significant.
Their group got underway with a rematch against the Cats, who had two points to spare at the final whistle, having always been on top in a tight affair. While that was a disappointment, it wasn’t terminal and they are in the same stages of the competition now as if they had won that game.
They haven’t always fired on full cylinders, most notably against Limerick in the group stage, but were never going to lose that, while proving far too strong for Offaly and Wexford to secure primary seeding for the Quarter-Finals.
Waterford provided a real shock to the system and Carrie Dolan’s accuracy from placed balls was crucial to keep them in touch. And but for Sarah Healy’s two brilliant saves early in the second-half, with Waterford leading by four points, who knows what might have eventuated.
But as confidence soared, skipper Sarah Dervan drove on her charges from full-back, Niamh Kilkenny began to make her presence known at midfield and with the full-forward line finally in receipt of ammunition, Ailish O’Reilly and Noreen Coen fired the vital shots.
O’Reilly’s goal killed Waterford off and she has scored 5-15 from five games to date, while Coen is on 1-11. Dolan’s 10 points brought her to 27. Aoife Donohue, Heather Cooney, Tara Kenny and Lorraine Ryan are other key individuals.
Cork finished with a points difference of +83 in Group 2. That runners-up Tipperary were on +5 is an indication of their total supremacy. One area that seems to be established more than any other now is their conditioning, where the added years of elite preparation in this regard compared to many of their rivals, has seen them blow teams away in the second-half, when games have been competitive in the first.
A panel that has claimed the last two All-Ireland titles has been strengthened by the introduction of last year’s All-Ireland-winning Minors and Intermediates, Saoirse McCarthy and Clíona Healy, while Laura Hayes, another member of the 2018 Minors, is in her second season on the panel and Ciara McCarthy is another teenager making their presence felt.
Yet Cork still possesses as strong and experienced a spine as you could wish for, from Aoife Murray, her successor as captain Gemma O’Connor, Orla Cotter and the Mackey sisters Katrina and Pamela. Amy O’Connor continues to be a threat and Linda Collins has benefited from a consistent 2018 to become firmly established in the attack.
Paudie Murray’s squad have gone about their business remarkably quietly for a crew pursuing a three-in-a-row. Failure to get to the League Final would not have caused any sleepless nights but the concern for Murray and his backroom staff will be facing a Galway team that had a real workout a fortnight previously, while not having played themselves for four weeks.
It is not a situation they are unaccustomed to however, and one recalls them being pushed all the way by the same opposition in similar circumstances two years ago. We can expect a cracker once again.
Galway captain Sarah Dervan believes that the examination Waterford subjected her team to in the Quarter-Final will stand to the Tribeswomen.
The National League winners were hot favourites to dispense with their less experienced rivals but were on the back foot throughout the opening period, despite hitting Waterford for a goal from Aoife Donohue after just 16 seconds.
Such was the Waterford dominance that Galway went in at half-time trailing by four points.
It almost got worse, as despite an interval recalibration, it was the Déise who started the second-half better and created two glorious goal chances.
Fortunately, Sarah Healy was up to the challenge, first saving Niamh Rockett’s shot, albeit that it was a nice height for her, but then somehow getting her hurley to deflect the sliotar around the bottom right corner of the post – the most difficult movement for a right-handed goalkeeper – from Annie Fitzgerald’s shrewdly-placed hand-pass.
Beth Carton converted the resultant 45 to put five between them but had Waterford moved seven clear and been buoyed by another three-pointer, Galway’s backs would have been against the wall.
As it was, they gradually turned the screw and with Dervan leading a staunch defensive effort that ensured no further scores were yielded, and Ailish O’Reilly and Noreen Coen capitalising on the increased supply, Galway advanced.
“The first-half was a bit non-existent for us.” said Dervan on Galway Bay FM. “In fairness to Waterford, they put our pin to our collar but in the second-half, my God them women, they stood up, each and every one of them.
“They were wonderful. The heart and determination they showed in the second-half was something I haven’t seen in a long time and I’m just delighted we dug it out. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means but it is going to improve us.”
And Dervan paid special tribute to Healy, who stepped up from Minor hurling to succeed Susan Earner upon the long-time custodian’s retirement a few years ago and is now blossoming into an elite goalkeeper.
“She is a sharp operator and she was on the money. It will do wonders for her confidence. She’s an outstanding goalie.”