REIGNING CHAMPIONS CORK strengthened their grip at the top of the Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 table when they held off a late rally from All-Ireland champions Dublin at a rain-swept Croke Park on Saturday afternoon. The ever-dependable Orla Finn kicked five points for the visitors, while Hannah Looney also chipped with 0-2 during an industrious display in very difficult conditions.
Carla Rowe led the way with 1-2 for Dublin but despite enjoying a late flourish, they fell to their first loss of the campaign. Cork, after dropping some early shots into the hands of Dublin goalkeeper Ciara Trant, took the lead through centre-back Melissa Duggan’s fifth minute point.
While they didn’t always capitalise on the opportunities that fell their way, a brace from the reliable Finn extended the lead for Ephie Fitzgerald’s charges. Carla Rowe kicked the hosts into gear with a two-point salvo, but Cork subsequently reinforced their authority.
Finn registered 0-13 when the Munster side overcame Dublin in last year’s league semi-final and she split the posts at the end of an intricate attacking move before adding a routine free on 24 minutes to make it 0-5 to 0-2 for Cork at the break with the rebels having played into the breeze in the opening half.
Maire O’Callaghan and Looney were combining to good effect in midfield, and it was the latter who took the charge when the action resumed. The Aghada star landed points from play either side of another Finn free to give Cork a firm control of the proceedings.
Dublin, despite struggling to impose their attacking game against a watertight Cork defence, received a lifeline midway in the third quarter when Rowe slotted home a penalty into the bottom right corner of the net after a foul on Oonagh Whyte.
Five-time All Star Lyndsey Davey was simultaneously introduced off the bench for her seasonal return as Mick Bohan’s side, who secured their sole league title in 2018, looked set for a big finish to the contest. And they certainly ramped up the pressure on the league champions in a frenetic finish with Hannah O’Neill and Davey shooting points. But they were unable to draw level with a free from Rowe in the dying moments drifting wide as Cork held on for victory.
The win comes as a big one for the Rebels, with the league going to a straight final this year.
Scorers for Cork: O Finn 0-5 (4f), H Looney 0-2, M Duggan 0-1.
Scorers for Dublin: C Rowe 1-2 (1-0 pen, 0-1f), H O’Neill, L Davey 0-1 each.
Cork: M O’Brien; M Ambrose, R Phelan, S Leahy; L O’Mahony, M Duggan, A Hutchings; M O’Callaghan, H Looney; O Farmer, Á O’Sullivan, L Cleary; L Coppinger, S Noonan, O Finn.
Subs: B O’Sullivan for Cleary, S O’Leary for Noonan (both h-t), K Quirke for Coppinger (40), S Kiely for Leahy (48), E Kiely for Farmer (50), C O’Callaghan for Phelan (64).
Dublin: C Trant; É Rutledge, M Ní Scanaill, N Collins; O Nolan, M Byrne, L Caffrey; L Magee, J Dunne; K Sullivan, S Woods, C Rowe; N Sweeney, H O’Neill, C O’Connor.
Subs: O Whyte for Sullivan (22), N Hetherton for Magee (34), R McDonnell for Sweeney, L Davey for Whyte (both 45), L Kane for Woods (58).
Referee: Niall McCormack (Laois).