Sports Update: ‘I was just praying it went over’: Cork’s All-Ireland final hero on game-winning free

In a low-scoring affair, Orla Cotter scored five crucial frees as Cork defeated Kilkenny by a point in yesterday’s decider.

CORK’S ALL-IRELAND final hero Orla Cotter admitted after the game she didn’t know exactly why referee Eamon Cassidy awarded her a free in the dying minutes of yesterday’s encounter – not that it mattered to her.  

“Nah, I didn’t mind, I’ll take it,” she said.

Orla Cotter scores a late point
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Some fella told me it was a controversial free, I didn’t mind. I’d take it either way – we could probably have claimed a few more controversial frees during the day.

“Look, we’ll take it. It went over the bar. I missed an easier one earlier.”

The Kilkenny sideline were furious with Cassidy’s decision to blow for a foul on Cotter, who found herself surrounded by Kilkenny defenders.

As she mentioned, Cotter sent a placed ball from closer to goal wide just 10 minutes earlier, but held her nerve when it really mattered. She duly stepped up and sent over the game-winning free to seal her seventh senior All-Ireland title.

Not a bad haul for the St Catherine’s forward, who is likely to collect her sixth All-Star this winter.

“I knew there was only a minute or so left. But I was just praying it went over, and it did. Myself and Chloe (Sigerson) but plenty of time in before training most days, practising our frees, and she hit some lovely ones today as well. It’s fantastic.

“For me it was every player, really. Aoife Murray saved a goal just a couple of minutes beforehand, someone else got a hook or a block in. It was a team performance, and we’ve been working on that with management.

“It’s the ‘we’ before the ‘me’, and we’ve been working on that even last year – it doesn’t matter who scores, who saves, we all defend and attack together.

“That’s what stood to us towards the end. It’s heartbreaking for Kilkenny, two years in a row, and you have to acknowledge that as well. They’re a fantastic team and it could have gone any way towards the end.”

Davina Tobin with Orla Cotter
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Kilkenny rallied midway through the second-half with three unanswered scores to move 0-12 to 0-11 ahead. Staring defeat in the face, it was time for Cork’s cool heads to prevail. 

“There’s nothing left in the tank and you’re trying to stay as composed as you can,” explained Gemma O’Connor.

“It paid off for us today. There’s no room out there for hotheads – sometimes I get a bit hotheaded but we’ve learned down through the years.”

The centre-back had the letters ‘CA’ written on her hand – possibly a personal reminder to use ‘Controlled Aggression’ on the field. Whatever it was, O’Connor drove Cork on from centre-back and they outscored Kilkenny by 0-3 to 0-1 in the closing stages to take the O’Duffy Cup.

“We’ve worked on this the last few years, to keep composed, to keep going, that at the right time the right player will step up. And for us today it was Orla, who scored a great point.

Martin O’Brien and Gemma O'Connor
Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I don’t know why we do it to ourselves, a point in it. At half-time the message was to keep our composure. Beforehand you’re trying to get yourself riled up, to get into the right frame of mind, the fighting attitude – then at half-time it’s all about ‘this is where we are now and we need to be composed’. It’s no time to lose your head.

“We knew it’d be a tight game from start to finish. The championship has been quite open but we knew the final would be so defensive, we don’t give each other an inch.

“I don’t know what way it is to look at, sometimes you’d wish the play would open up a small bit, but you just want to win at all costs, that’s the bottom line.

“It’s about smart people making smart decisions. This game is all about decision making. You asked why it’s so tight between Cork and Kilkenny – I think it’s because we’re so similar, the teams are physical, skilful, the panels show extreme skill, talent and workrate. That’s why there’s so little between us.”

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