SPORT can be cruel at times. The Kilkenny minor camogie team learned that lesson on Saturday as an All-Ireland title was wrenched from their grasp.
Three points clear of Cork as the game moved into injury-time, Kilkenny were within touching distance of their first minor All-Ireland minor title since 2009.
However, Cork refused to yield. Battling to the end, the Munster girls had one final shot to save themselves when they won a free close to the Kilkenny posts. Centre-forward Orla Cronin took the free and struck it low. The sliotar took a wicked deflection off a Kilkenny defender, giving goalkeeper Noelle Murphy no chance.
It was a cruel blow for Kilkenny, who were left shattered at the final whistle. Not so Cork, who were elated at snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat.
While Kilkenny had the better chances over the hour, they couldn’t make them count. Damian Walsh’s charges shot 10 wides to Cork’s six. They also dominated a large portion of the second half, but Cork picked off two goals to stay in contention.
In what proved to be a game of two halves, Kilkenny held a narrow lead at half-time (0-4 to 0-3). The second half was pulsating viewing.
Kilkenny had the majority of possession for the early stages of the restart, but they couldn’t translate that onto the scoreboard.
Cork didn’t have the same problem, drawing level with a Katelyn Hickey point in the 37th minute, before Orla Cronin’s deflected shot gave the Munster girls a three-point cushion two minutes later.
The gauntlet was thrown down in front of Kilkenny. They rose to the challenge, taking over as the game opened up.
Kilkenny had to work hard, but parity was restored by the 50th minute, thanks to points from Miriam Walsh, Ciara Holden (free) and Lydia Fitzpatrick, who fired over a mammoth effort from almost 70 yards out.
However, just as Kilkenny appeared to have the momentum, they were left reeling by a sucker punch. Needlessly coughing up possession in the corner, the Cats were punished as Cork swiftly worked play up the field to the unmarked Linda Collins, who blasted home a well-worked goal (2-4 to 0-7).
Kilkenny, who have shown incredible resilience throughout the championship, came back to rescue the situation once more.
With four minutes left, a slick attack led to a goal chance. With the hard-working Mary Corcoran applying strong pressure, Niamh Donnelly somehow managed to get the vital touch to divert the sliotar to the net and draw the Cats level.
Kilkenny were motoring now, adding points from Ciara Holden and Miriam Walsh (2) to put them within touching distance of the finishing line.
However, Cronin’s late rescue act ensured Cork lived to fight another day. Kilkenny will have a chance to make amends in the replay, which has been scheduled for Saturday, May 11.
SCORERS: Kilkenny - Miriam Walsh (0-5), Niamh Donnelly (1-0), Lydia Fitzpatrick (0-3, 0-2 frees), Ciara Holden (0-2, 0-1 free). Cork - Orla Cronin (2-2, 1-2 frees), Linda Collins (1-0), Katelyn Hickey (0-2).
Kilkenny - Noelle Murphy (Lisdowney), Ciara Farrell (Thomastown), Catherine Foley (Windgap), Michaela Kenneally (Windgap), Megan Farrell (Thomastown), Mary O’Connell (Clara), Ailish Butler (Thomastown), Lydia Fitzpatrick (St Lachtain’s), Aisling Nolan (Clara), Miriam Walsh (Tullaroan), Sarah Whelan (St Anne’s), Aine Gannon (Rower-Inistioge), Alice Talbot (Piltown), Ciara Holden (Mullinavat), Mary Corcoran (St Anne’s). Subs: Niamh Donnelly (Thomastown), Lorraine Long (Piltown). Cork - Amy Lee, Shauna Ring, Laura Treacy, Amy Curtin, Emma Kavanagh, Lauren Callanan, Susan O’Leary, Jennifer Hosford, Jessica Hennigan, Caroline Murphy, Orla Cronin, Katelyn Hickey, Amy O’Connor, Rachel Sheehan, Linda Collins. Subs: Hannah Looney, Aisling Wallace, Rachel O’Shea, Orla Healy.
Referee – John Dolan (Clare).