There will be a new energy about the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior final in 2023 as Cork meet Waterford.
A unique pairing of neighbours that crossed swords on plenty of occasions in recent years. Since Waterford’s ascension to the elite ranks after their 2015 intermediate success.
The teams have never met in an All-Ireland senior decider. Waterford’s only previous appearance, in 1945, coming in defeat to Antrim.
This is also the first time since Wexford completed their famous three-in-a-row in 2012. That a team other than Cork, Galway and Kilkenny has appeared in camogie’s blue riband!
The Déise go in as underdogs, however having securing their first triumph over Cork since returning to the top grade in the Munster Championship this year, they will not be cowed.
Perhaps even more significant is their performance against their vaunted opponents in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park.
Many feared Cork would be too strong, but Waterford led entering the final quarter before fading down the stretch.
They had fielded that day with speedster Abby Flynn nursing a hamstring injury. Furthermore, industrious scoring threat Mairéad O’Brien, scorer of three goals to date in this year’s competition. Was suffering from what was subsequently revealed to be a chipped shinbone.
Seán Power has come in as manager this year. He is a man with a considerable track record in hurling.
He led Waterford to rare All-Ireland success at U21 and minor level.
Statues may well be built in his honour, if he were to add a maiden senior camogie title for Waterford.
The Dublin footballers showed that operating in the National League’s second tier is not an impediment to the ultimate glory. Waterford won the Very League Division 1B crown with a degree of ease.
Their progress through the group stages of the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Championship was similarly without fuss. However, their All-Ireland semi-final defeat of Tipperary made up for the lack of drama up to that point.
Waterford’s win over Tipperary
Natural defender Mairead Power was pushed up to follow Karen Kennedy wherever the Tipp co-captain went and did an excellent job but also found time to score the goal that kickstarted the Déise fightback after falling seven points behind in the first half.
They went in trailing by just one and at the final whistle were one up. Brianna O’Regan has been one of the country’s top goalies for a number of years now and she scored a whopping point from a free on her own 65 in the semi-final.
Vikki Faulkner, Lorraine Bray, O’Brien and Beth Carton were others to provide huge performances, the latter scoring eight points, half from play.
That return saw the De La Salle genius overhaul Down’s Niamh Mallon as leading scorer according to stats compiled by Matthew Hurley aka Gaelic Statsman (@gaelicstatsman) with 3-41.
That she is the fourth highest scorer form play with 1-17 illustrates her all-round contribution and her work rate without the ball is first class too.
Meanwhile, captain Niamh Rockett is aiming to join rare if not exclusive company. She hopes to add a senior medal to premier junior and intermediate mementoes won in 2011 and 2015.
To do so as skipper would be a further bonus in a season in which the 29-year-old has already coached All-Ireland winners.
She steered St Declan’s of Kilmacthomas, where she teaches, to a second schools’ title. In doing so, they bridged a gap of 12 years from the inaugural one.
Cork represent serious opposition though and have undoubtedly come through a more rigorous path.
Having lost a number of tight games in recent years, they came out on top against champions Kilkenny by a point in the quarter-final, and League victors Galway by three in the semi-final.
They were better full value for those wins despite the narrowness of those margins. An increased physicality around the one-percenters and breaking ball being very notable against Galway especially.
The celebrations after that game reflected relief on Waterford’s part. Previously they lost eight straight League and Championship games to the Westerners.
The return from injury of Ashling Thompson, Orla Cronin, Laura Hayes and Orlaith Cahalane at almost the same time as the knockout stages of the Championship got under way has suddenly given Matthew Twomey real depth, with Cliona Healy also having a big impact off the bench.
While free-taking has been an issue, skipper Amy O’Connor has been doing well of late and is the third leading scorer overall with 3-30, 3-7 from play.
Katrina Mackey, who has maintained her record of never not making at least the semi-finals in her 15th season at this level and will be chasing a sixth triumph in her tenth final appearance in that time, has recovered from a bruised lung and bruised ribs that kept her out of all bar the first 20 minutes of the League, and with 3-13, is only four points shy of the Championship’s leading scorer from play, Tipperary’s Cáit Devane on 6-8.
Amy Lee has made the goalkeeper’s jersey her own while Libby Coppinger, Laura Treacy and Pamela Mackey are tremendous defenders.
It is the running power of Saoirse McCarthy, Fiona Keating and Heather Looney that is among Cork’s greatest weapons however, and they will look to break the opposition defensive lines to create an overload – either an overlap or underlap – as often as possible.
If the weather co-operates, this could be a high-scoring tussle, though with so many good defenders on view, the match-ups will be hugely interesting. Strap in!