It was a case of deja vu for Kilkenny on Sunday afternoon as they cruelly exited the championship to old foes Cork in another one-point defeat to the Munster outfit at Croke Park.
Kilkenny lost out to the same opposition in the 2017 and 2018 finals by the smallest of margins and their chances of defending the All-Ireland championship that they so memorably won against Galway last December are now over.
Cork began the game with serious intent as Saoirse McCarthy, who was a late inclusion in the Cork starting line-up, fired over from in 30 metres out to get the first point of the game.
Kilkenny got off the mark with the ever-reliant Denise Gaule pointing her first free of the game soon after the 5-minute mark. The game failed to spark into life during the early stages with both teams setting up in a cagey and pragmatic fashion to counter-act their opponent’s firepower in the forward line.
Cork moved into the lead again when a string of hand passes eventually found its way to Killeagh’s Chloe Sigerson who split the posts with an effort from outside the Kilkenny ’45. They didn’t have to wait long to double their early lead as free taker Orla Cronin opened her account with the Rebels first point from a free to make it Cork 0-03 to 0-01 Kilkenny after 10 minutes.
The final score before the water break was Kilkenny’s first from play as the experienced Katie Power showed her class with a glorious point from over the shoulder as a tense first quarter drew to a close with one point between the old rivals.
Douglas midfielder Katrina Mackey and centre forward Orla Cronin pointed within a minute of the resumption of play. The in-form Katie Nolan linked up with Aoife Doyle to end the All-Ireland champions 13-minute wait for a point on with 10 minutes remaining but that was cancelled out almost immediately afterwards as the outstanding Chloe Sigerson got her second point of the game to make it 0-06 to 0-03. Cork’s revenge mission for last year’s defeat at the same stage to the same opposition was looking increasingly likely.
Star players Sigerson and Gaule exchanged scores before Mary O’Connell found wing back Kellyann Doyle who made no mistake to reduce the deficit but Kilkenny’s defence continued to give up chances as Chloe Sigerson struck a free from just inside the Cork half before Orla Cronin tapped over an easy free to make it Cork 0-09 to 0-05.
Sigerson led the charge for a Cork side who seemed to bring far more intensity to the game as she got her fourth of the afternoon with the last play of the half to deservedly put Paudie Murray’s side five points ahead at half time, Cork 0-10 to 0-05 Kilkenny.
Kilkenny were in desperate need of a fast start after the interval, and they began their comeback attempt with a free from 2020 Player of the Year Denise Gaule but Orla Cronin got her fourth free as Cork responded to a good opening five minutes from Brian Dowling’s side.
Another Gaule free from in front of the Hogan Stand kept them within touching distance of Cork before the key moment in the game came when Clara’s Mary O’Connell fired past Amy Lee to get the first goal of the game and a yet another Gaule free remarkably drew Kilkenny level midway through the second period, Cork 0-11 to 1-08 Kilkenny.
Cork replied with a close-range Orla Cronin free, but half forward Gaule slotted over another free to draw the sides level for the third time with 10 minutes remaining in a tension-filled encounter between bitter rivals.
The Windgap sharpshooter put Kilkenny into the lead for the first time since the 27th second with her seventh free and her south Kilkenny compatriot Katie Power got her second point from play after Kilkenny gathered the puck out as Kilkenny from seemingly nowhere found themselves two points ahead, Cork 0-12 to 1-11 Kilkenny.
Enniskeane’s Cronin scored her sixth free of the afternoon to reduce the deficit as frees became even more crucial as the game entered its closing stages.
That was to be the final action for Cronin, however, as a moment of madness from the centre forward saw John Dermody issue a red card. Cronin grabbed a hold of Grace Walsh’s helmet off the ball and shoved the Tullaroan midfielder to the ground as Fiona Keating levelled the game. The score stood but Cronin was gone.
Kilkenny could not take advantage of having an extra player, however, as captain Linda Collins pointed with the clock showing that there were only two minutes of the four additional minutes remaning. That was to be the crucial score as Kilkenny could not draw level again and they relinquish their hold on the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.
Heartbreak for Kilkenny. For Cork, they advance to next month’s All-Ireland final with Galway where new champions will be crowned.