“It was great to see crowds are back and we just hope they keep that noise and passion on the terraces” – Match Preview: galway United (H) v UCD

Galway United host UCD at Eamonn Deacy Park this Friday with kick-off at 7.45pm.

The two sides look to have little chance of catching leaders Shelbourne but are locked on the same win/draw/win record just below the Reds. UCD were in FAI Cup action last weekend, arguably unfortunate not to shock Waterford at the Belfield Bowl. United had the weekend off and come here especially fresh. Manager John Caulfield said: “I have to mention that UCD gave it a really good go and ultimately should have beaten Waterford in the last eight of the FAI Cup last weekend. They had a lot of chances to win the game.

“UCD have had a great season. They were one of the favourites to get
promoted and Andy has assembled a fantastic team. Top scorer Colm
Whelan, Luke Kerrigan and Paul Doyle are three players I would mention
as having a lot of quality.

“We have had two tough games against UCD this season.
We did very well to win 2-0 in Belfield earlier in the season; it was
one of best performances of the season. Hopefully we can repeat that on
Friday night.”

He added:

“We come here on the back of two clean sheets but, unfortunately, we weren’t able to score in the Treaty game, which was a game notable for the superb support we got at Eamonn Deacy Park. We knew they were going to be stubborn; they are a very strong defensive team but we created chances and their goalkeeper Tadhg Ryan was the man of the match. It was the biggest crowd of the season; it was great to see crowds are back and we just hope they keep that noise and passion on the terraces from week to week.”

Team News:
Francely Lomboto and Ronan Manning remain out of action due to injuries.
Conor McCormack is suspended.

Mack Hansen handed debut in URC opener with Cardiff

The Connacht Rugby coaching team have named their matchday squad for Friday night’s United Rugby Championship opener away to Cardiff (k/o 7.35pm).
After a two-try performance for the Eagles last week, new signing Mack Hansen has been handed his Pro debut after he was named on the wing. Fellow Aussie John Porch is named on the other wing with Tiernan O’Halloran operating at full-back.
Tom Farrell starts his first competitive game since November after his serious knee injury, with the 28-year old named in the centre alongside Tom Daly who makes his 50th appearance for the province. Irish internationals Kieran Marmion and Jack make up the half-back pairing.

Club captain Jarrad Butler is named at number 8 alongside flankers Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver, while Oisín Dowling and Ultan Dillane start together in the second row.
The starting line-up is completed by hooker Shane Delahunt and props Matthew Burke and Finlay Bealham.
There’s also a potential debut off the bench for Hubert Gilvarry. The scrum-half has represented Sligo RFC and Sligo Grammar School and has been integrated in the Pro setup the last number of weeks.
Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“It’s been a really productive pre-season campaign so we’re all looking forward to this URC opener. It’s a difficult opening game as Cardiff are always a formidable outfit especially at home, but we’ve prepared in the right way and are confident we can put in a really strong performance.
Mack Hansen has been very impressive since arriving so fully deserves his first start, and in Hubert Gilvarry we have another Connacht native ready to make his debut if called upon. I know his inclusion in the matchday 23 will be a very proud day for all at Sligo RFC and Sligo Grammar School.”

Friday 24th September, Cardiff Arms Park @ 19:35
Number/Name/Caps (* denotes uncapped)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (190)
14. John Porch (40)
13. Tom Farrell (62)
12. Tom Daly (49)
11. Mack Hansen *
10. Jack Carty (159)
9. Kieran Marmion (187)
1. Matthew Burke (23)
2. Shane Delahunt (100)
3. Finlay Bealham (159)
4. Oisin Dowling (7)
5. Ultan Dillane (114)
6. Cian Prendergast (10)
7. Conor Oliver (20)
8. Jarrad Butler (73) (C)
16. Dave Heffernan (144)
17. Jordan Duggan (13)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (68)
19. Niall Murray (18)
20. Paul Boyle (57)
21. Hubert Gilvarry *
22. Conor Fitzgerald (36)
23. Sammy Arnold (16)

Aviva Stadium to host URC interpro between Connacht and Ulster

Connacht Rugby and the URC can confirm the Round 5 fixture between Connacht and Ulster will take place at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday 23rd October (k/o 5.15pm).
In what will be a day of celebration at the home of Irish Rugby, the fixture is due to be one of the first professional sporting events in Ireland following the planned relaxing of most remaining restrictions the previous day.
Andy Friend’s squad previously played two fixtures at the ground in August 2020, including a win over Ulster in their first game back since the suspension of the 2019/20 Guinness PRO14.
Connacht can also confirm the following ticket info:
– All Season Tickets will be valid, with holders provided a complimentary upgrade to Premium Level seats. Emails will be sent to all ST holders tomorrow where they can choose their location in the ground and purchase additional tickets.
– Remaining 1885 Club members will have exclusive access to purchase tickets from Friday for the weekend. As a thank you, these members can also purchase tickets in the Premium Level for the same price as a Category 1 ticket.
– Remaining tickets for the Lower Level and Premium Level will go on General Sale this Monday from 9am.
Willie Ruane, CEO of Connacht Rugby, says the day promises to be a memorable occasion:
“Connacht Rugby are really pleased to confirm our fixture against Ulster is to be held at the Aviva Stadium next month. This will be the first time that our supporters will have the opportunity to watch our Professional squad in the Aviva Stadium, and I’m confident that as usual they will turn out in force and make it a memorable occasion.
With all of the uncertainty surrounding capacities over recent months the opportunity provided to us by the IRFU to play at the Aviva Stadium is one that we felt we could not pass up. As we all know there are tens of thousands of people living in Dublin who are originally from the West of Ireland, and we hope to use this game to not only provide our supporters living in the west with the opportunity to make this a memorable day but also for our supporters living outside the province to come along and cheer on their home team.
We’d like to thank our official supporters club the Connacht Clan for their support of this fixture since we first engaged with them last month, the IRFU in helping us bring this game to the home of Irish Rugby, and to broadcasters TG4 for accommodating a change in kick-off time to allow this game take place.”

Head Coach Andy Friend says the whole squad can’t wait to return to the Aviva.
“Our fixture against Ulster at the Aviva last year was a really special occasion. At the time it was our first game in six months and for most of the players it was their first experience playing at the stadium. You could see straight away that the venue was ideal for the type of rugby we want to play, and that helped give us the win we deserved.
The prospect of returning there – but this time with thousands of Connacht supporters behind us – is something the staff and players have been fully behind since the start, and we can’t wait until that day arrives.

Mark Keenan reappointed Ireland senior men’s head coach

Irish senior international head coach Mark KeenanPhoto by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Mark Keenan has been reappointed as Ireland senior men’s head coach. Keenan led the team to victory at the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries last month, their first senior men’s international title since 1994. Keenan will take charge of the Irish team as they return to FIBA EuroBasket in November.

Speaking after confirmation that he would remain as head coach, Keenan said: “I’m delighted at being reappointed as head coach for the next phase of the development of our senior men’s team.

“It’s always a great honour and privilege to be able to represent your country. I’m also pleased to say that my assistant coaches Puff Summers and Adrian Fulton and team manager Mike Hickey will also be staying onboard.”

Ireland’s senior men are competing in the FIBA EuroBasket 2025 Pre-Qualifiers First Round and have been drawn in Group A with Cyprus, Austria and Switzerland. Their first contest is away in Cyprus on November 25th, followed by a home game against Austria four days later at the National Basketball Arena. The group winners and the best runner up from three groups will advance to the FIBA EuroBasket 2025 Pre-Qualifiers Second Round.

Ireland head coach Mark Keenan during the FIBA Men’s European Championship for Small Countries day three match between Ireland and San Marino at National Basketball Arena in Tallaght, Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

“It’s a very exciting and new challenge now to be preparing so quickly for the first round of the EuroBasket qualifiers, which take place in November. The format of this competition is so different to the tournament style format of the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries.

“Dealing with the release of players from their clubs during their seasons for international breaks, flying players home from abroad, home and away fixtures over the space of a few days – these are all challenges we face now over the coming year. These are challenges we are really looking forward to tackling head on, in order to compete at this next level of European competition.

“I really hope the basketball and sporting public will get behind the team and will come to the National Basketball Arena in November for our first home game against Austria.”

Tim Rice, chair of Basketball Ireland’s Elite Performance Committee, added: “The recent success that the senior men’s team had in the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries is a testament to the leadership and commitment by Mark and his staff. He is a well-respected coach with a lot of experience and a proven track record. He has a great desire as a former Ireland senior captain to see the senior programme compete at the highest level. We appreciate his willingness to take on this challenge and look forward to the first game in Cyprus and the home game against Austria in November.”

Keenan has been head coach of Ireland’s senior men’s team since 2019. He previously spent four years as an assistant coach with the senior team, under both Jay Larranga and Greg Gurr. He was also Ireland’s U20 men’s coach for four years. As a player he captained Ireland to victory in the 1994 Promotions Cup. He is the current coach of men’s Super League side Griffith College Templeogue, who are the current National Cup holders.

Ireland senior men’s FIBA EuroBasket 2025 Pre-Qualifiers First Round:

25th November 2021 Cyprus v Ireland

28th November 2021 Ireland v Austria

24th February 2022 Switzerland v Ireland 

27th February 2022 Ireland v Cyprus

30th June 2022 Austria v Ireland

Sunday 3rd July 2022 Ireland v Switzerland

Connacht Womens Players Statement

Connacht Women’s Rugby Players would like to make the following statement regarding last Saturday’s Interprovincial game at Energia Park.

We are very disappointed and upset by the facilities that were provided for us to change both pre and post match and for our post match meal. The location was not suitable for the purpose.We pride ourselves on representing Connacht Rugby in a professional manner both on and off the pitch. We did our best to perform on the day, despite this situation, but these circumstances were far from the standards we would expect for this level of our sport. We acknowledge the apology issued by the IRFU and Leinster Rugby earlier this week.

We sincerly hope that something like this will never happen again, for any team. We would request that a review of the decision making process which lead to these circumstances be conducted and our hope is that more thought will go into decisions like this for the women’s game in the future.We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the support we have received from Connacht Rugby this season.

We are all working together to improve Women’s Rugby in the province and throughout Ireland. We believe that every Province is doing the same. Great progress has been made this season with all the Womens Interpro games televised by TG4 and Vodafone coming on board as a sponsor of the series is a massive step in the right direction.

However the circumstances on Saturday highlight there is still much work to be done.More young girls got to see women’s rugby on TG4 over the last three weeks and hopefully we have inspired them to take up the game and fall in love with the sport that we love.Thank You.The Connacht Womens’ Rugby Team.

“we were going to fight for our lives and that’s what we did.” –

Sarah Dervan became the first Galwegian to lift the O’Duffy Cup twice after the Tribeswomen’s dramatic All-Ireland senior camogie final triumph over Cork but that sort of history was never a motivating force for the colossal full-back. 

In a county never short of individual talent, manager Cathal Murray has emphasised unity, a collective selflessness and workrate as the means to get over the line after a catalogue of near-misses and they did so for the second time in three years following one of the most captivating and high-octane All-Ireland finals camogie has ever produced. 

“There’s 36 girls, we’re all leaders and we all went up those steps today as one,” said Dervan, cutting off any attempt to speak about personal achievement. “It’s just been an unbelievable feeling and it just goes to show that if you work hard, dreams can come true so I’m just absolutely delighted. 

“You can only control how you react,” she added of Galway’s response to Katrina Mackey’s goal, which saw them fall three points behind entering the final quarter but they outscored the Rebels by 1-4 to a point in this period, Siobhán McGrath finishing craftily for a 57th minute goal and her sister Orlaith driving over two brilliant points to seal the deal. 

“Years gone by, we reacted in the wrong way and this year we said that no matter what Cork throw at us, we’re going to react the way we wanted to and we drove and got the next point and put a little bit of belief back in us. 

“We dug really deep and every single one of those girls fought with their hearts, I’m just so delighted to be on the right side of it.” 

It was in contrast to what happened when Denise Gaule goaled from a penalty down the finishing stretch in last year’s decider. 

“It was a hard one to take because we were probably in the game, nearly like a replica of this one, until the 54th minute when the penalty changed it, we didn’t react the way we wanted to that day. 

“Our goal this year was to get back to an All-Ireland and when we did, we were going to fight for our lives and that’s what we did. We worked hard and we had the belief that if we worked hard, we’d win.” 

It was no surprise that she singled out the management team, headed by Murray, for special praise. 

“They have brought Galway camogie to elite level and the work they do behind the scenes, it’s testament to our management that we are on the right side of it two years out of three. 

“Robbie Lane has been exceptional, our S&C coach and Cathal always demands the best for us. We always get fed, we always get treated exactly the way any county hurling team would and I think that’s huge. 

“He never let us down, he always fought for us. It’s an elite level now and I’m just so delighted to have such a massive backroom team that have huge experience and knowledge and it’s really because of them, that’s why we’re here.” 

And the moment when she knew they had it in the bag? 

“Orlaith McGrath sticking over the last point and I looked up at and was 63.04 I think and I went, ‘Oh my God, blow the whistle.’ That was the moment, an unbelievable feeling. Fair play to her, she put her hand up and took the confidence she has and stuck that ball over the bar. The girls, they all died with their boots on today and worked hard and we were on the right side of it which was great.” 

It was a big day for the McGrath siblings, who had missed out in 2019 and player of the match Aoife Donohue revealed her confidence in the Sarsfields sisters. 

“When the (Mackey) goal went in, I think there was maybe ten minutes left and we got two points to bring it back,” Donohue recalled. “I was saying to the girls inside, with Orlaith and Siobhán, it was just gonna take one ball and by God, the one that they got they made it count and it really got us over the line. 

“I was watching Orlaith McGrath’s (second) point (from distance) go over the bar for about five minutes!” 

Describing the victory as “the sweetest one yet”, the tireless Mullagh dynamo admitted that she had little left in the tank at the final whistle. Little wonder. 

“I was absolutely out on my feet. It was ball for ball. They’d go down the pitch and get a score, we’d go up the pitch to get a score. The way the game finished, it was just a real sweet win and such a battle. 

“I’m sure it was a great game to watch and it’s great for camogie. You’d be hoping now that the coverage of camogie (will keep going), people watching camogie matches tuned in, I think they got a right game of camogie. A real battle all the way to the last three minutes. 

“We’ve had some huge performances through the year and we’ve been accused maybe of not firing on all cylinders but we didn’t care as long as we were on the right side of the result. I think two great semi-finals, quarter-finals and camogie is in a great place going forward.” 

That is certainly true as the standard of all sectors from skill, fitness, strength and tactical nous has gone through the roof. 

Just like her skipper, Donohue wasn’t going to dwell on her award.  

“I thought our backs were outstanding. It’s not about me, it’s about the team. I’m happy to play any part and I couldn’t care if we never touched a ball as long as we win the game.” 

“I’m delighted for the group of players and this team. We’ve often been criticised coming into All-Ireland final and all year for not performing but I think the fight got us over the line. It was a great team effort.” 

Like Dervan, Niamh Kilkenny was forced into postponing her wedding by Covid-19 last year but while the captain will have Seán O’Duffy’s memorial at the top table when her nuptials finally take place next March, Kilkenny walked up the aisle belatedly to exchange vows with former Galway hurler Cyril Donnellan at the beginning of August. 

“It hasn’t been a bad couple of months!” said the grinning midfielder, who was switched to centre-forward in the second half scored an absolutely stunning point early in the third quarter that was a testament to her renowned footwork as much as her accuracy 

“I can’t really remember it but I just remember thinking not to get blocked down so I just tried to create a bit of space. Thankfully I did and thankfully it went over the bar. 

“It’s a great feeling to be back as winners. It’s a feeling you can’t describe. We really had it tough when the goal went in, I remember looking up at the clock and saw we had ten minutes left, we still had time. The girls were just unbelievable, they were outstanding the way everyone put their shoulder to the wheel and worked hard and thankfully we came out on top. 

“The way Ailish created that score for Siobhán, and the way Siobhán executed it then was unbelievable. It gave us just the kick we needed at the right time and we drove on from there. 

“Our defence have been unbelievable all year. Even against Tipperary in the semi-final, the amount of goal chances they kept out. When you see a team bearing down on goals, you know that they’re gonna earn it if they’re going to get a score. 

“Any time you win an All-Ireland is a sweet victory but the character the girls showed when that goal went in. We didn’t drop our heads. That’s something the management have instilled in us, belief right up to the end and thankfully we saw it out.” 

United and on message, on and off the pitch. 

Murray managers agree on merit as Tribes edge verdict after humdinger

By Daragh Ó Conchúir 

Cathal Murray was brought in to give Galway a harder edge and get them over the line after a series of near misses and the Sarsfields man has delivered in spade, the westerners finishing strongly to claim a second All-Ireland title on his three-season watch from three consecutive final appearances. 

Like everyone else, Murray was impressed by his players’ response as they fell a goal behind after Katrina Mackey’s 49th minute howitzer, having led for most of the game thanks to scoring the opening four points. 

The outstanding Hannah Looney and Ashling Thompson had driven the Rebel fightback, and Orla Cronin also performed exceptionally having been cleared to play by an interim stay from the DRA in the early hours of the morning. 

But Siobhán McGrath’s 57th minute goal swung the momentum back in Galway’s direction and her sister Orlaith drove over the last two points to seal the deal. 

“Their reaction to the goal was massive,” said Murray. “I think that was the first time Cork led in the game and went 1-11 to 0-11 points up. There’s plenty of places in Croke Park if you want to after a score like that. 

“But the players stood up. We talked about if something like that happens in a game, it’s all about our reaction, and our reaction was super. I think we outscored them 1-4 to two points the rest of the game. That’s what won it for us but all day, the workrate, the aggression in the tackle, the intensity – that’s something we said we needed to bring today if we were going to beat a team like Cork.” 

Murray made a big call in organising a reunion of the 2019 midfield pairing of Aoife Donohue and Niamh Kilkenny, and while the battle with Looney and Thompson was worth the entrance fee alone, Donohue finished with the player of the match award to justify the decision. 

“We saw how good Hannah Looney and Ashling Thompson were in the semi-final and that’s why we put Aoife Donohue and Niamh there… we needed to go toe to toe with them in the middle of the field and that’s why we had Aoife Donohue and Niamh Kilkenny out there. 

“It was a brilliant battle because they all contributed and all got on a lot of ball. Hannah Looney in particular was very influential in the first half but Aoife deserves huge credit for getting the better of that battle in the second half. 

“We just brought Niamh Hannify on at half-time, we felt that we needed a stabilising influence around midfield, she did really well on Ashling Thompson. Niamh going to centre-forward was a big thing as well, she got on a lot of ball from there. 

“Four unbelievable athletes and four unbelievable players. It was a joy to watch I’d say for any neutral.” 

His Cork counterpart, Paudie Murray was understandably disappointed after a tremendous effort by his young team but admitted that Galway might just have deserved to get their hands on the O’Duffy Cup. 

“Fair play to Galway,” said the Rebel Murray. “Probably over the hour the better team. Their conversion rate was much better than ours. It comes down to putting scores on the board, we were second best in that area.” 

He felt that perhaps his players retreated rather than going for the jugular after Mackey’s major but credited Galway in cutting out a couple of other potential goal opportunities throughout the game. 

“You could say that was good defending. Hand-passing a ball over a person’s head is probably not the right option to do, but look I am only grasping at straws. This Galway team has been around. I have been saying for a while they have been the best team, ran by a very good management set-up. 

“I have good time for Cathal. Disappointed for myself, but happy for him. They are going to be around (for a while). Physically they are much more advanced than us. We are a young team so it is an area we need to brush up on, but at 20, 21 years of age, it is going to take them another couple of years to develop.” 

There seems no doubt that both these sides will be around for a while, given how they exhibited the standards that have gone through the roof in recent times, and the clear benefit of the new rules introduced last year that has allowed the players the latitude to do so. 

The vanquished manager was generous in the praise of the man in the opposite dugout and the winners, but he was accurate too. Prior to Cathal Murray getting the call up, Galway only had two All-Irelands, both under the management of Tony Ward. Now that tally has been doubled and as the most consistent Galway team we have seen, they must surely be considered among the greats of the game.  

“I think they’re the most successful Galway team we’ve had,” noted the winning manager. “There’s no debate there. To win two All-Irelands in three years is really, really special. For me, any of the great teams have done it back-to-back, that’s my own opinion. You look at Wexford and the three-in-a-row, you look at Cork in ’14, ’15 and ’17 and ’18, they did it back-to-back. I think that’s the challenge now for this team. 

“But look, Tipperary are coming, I don’t think they got the credit they deserve. There was a lot of talk about our semi-final and how we only beat Tipp by four points – if you go out and beat Tipperary by four points, that’s a really, really good performance. 

“Kilkenny won the minor, were in the intermediate final today, they’re coming as well so it’s going to take a lot of work to stay ahead of the rest. But it’s great to be up there. But yeah, we probably need to win another All-Ireland if we want to be called a great team.” 

That’s for another day. 

McGrath major makes it day to remember for Galway

By Daragh Ó Conchúir at Croke Park 

Galway 1-15 

Cork 1-12 

Sarah Dervan lifts the O’Duffy Cup

On the day that the first Galway team to ever win the O’Duffy Cup was honoured, the Tribeswomen returned to the top of the tree for the fourth time, when just outstaying the same opposition that fell victim to the county’s trailblazers in 1996. 

It was Siobhán McGrath who scored the crucial goal when Sarsfields ended Slaughtneil’s dominance as All-Ireland club champions in 2020 and the flying forward came up with the defining major once again. 

It came as Galway rescued what looked a perilous situation when Katrina Mackey sent a thunderbolt to the roof of their net in the 49th minute. 

That made it 1-11 to 0-11 but from that juncture forward, Galway outscored the Munster crew by 1-4 to 0-1 and when one considers that they began the game with four points inside minutes, it was those bursts that proved definitive. 

Cathal Murray’s side had already reduced the margin to one when McGrath finished delicately beyond the advancing Amy Lee in the 56th minute, after the excellent Ailish O’Reilly had broken the line and provided the consummate pass. 

Orla Cronin, who was magnificent after being cleared to play in the early hours of the morning by the DRA, made it a one-point game but as Cork poured forward, Galway forced some huge turnovers and capitalised on the space, McGrath’s sister Orlaith hitting two big points to ensure it was Galway’s day. 

The availability or otherwise of Cronin dominated the build-up and the Enniskeane playmaker lined out with 26 on her back, skipper and the match winner against Kilkenny, Linda Collins making way. 

For their part, Galway brought in Carrie Dolan to make her first appearance since suffering a serious knee injury in the opening round against Westmeath, with Niamh Hanniffy dropping to the bench and Aoife Donohue reprising the midfield partnership with Niamh Kilkenny that propelled Cathal Murray’s side to their last All-Ireland in 2019. 

It was a game befitting an All-Ireland final with phenomenal quality in terms of physicality, skill and stamina and while it could have gone either way with a different bounce of a ball or the difference of a blocked pass here or there, it was difficult to argue against the eventual result given how Galway had led for most of the affair. 

It was a frantic start but Galway had the better of it. Dolan drove over two frees and Siobhán McGrath hit the first of her two opening-period points. O’Reilly cut in from the left to fire over from 40m soon after and it was a dream opening. 

Gradually, Cork chiselled their way back into it, with great thanks to their midfield pairing of Ashling Thompson and Hannah Looney, the latter in particularly taking the battle to the opposition and close to the best player in red throughout the nigh-on 70 minutes.  

Thompson ran onto a break from a Lee puckout to get the Rebels off the mark without breaking stride. McGrath replied before Sarah Healy was forced into an tremendous save from Mackey, after Cronin had drawn the cover. 

Cronin hit a brilliant score soon after, the first of three consecutive points for Cork, the other two quite superb efforts from Looney. 

Galway’s defenders had to make a number of interceptions with the Leesiders creating overlaps, one from Dervla Higgins – herself released to play after being sent off in error in the semi-final – from Amy O’Connor almost assuredly preventing a goal. 

O’Connor was looking lively and she clipped a nice point, while Cronin was very evident in general play too, a testament to the strength of her mentality after her week. 

Her shooting from placed balls was not so good though and she shot four first-half wides form frees. One was a straightforward attempt to equalise and it was punished as Kilkenny hit the target at the other end. 

Scores from Cronin (free) and Mackey, after Cronin had somehow stolen possession, brought Cork level for the first time but an inspirational score by Donohue on the run from wide on the right gave Galway the edge at the break, 0-9 to 0-8. 

Galway’s Carrie Dolan ©Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO

The third quarter was a real arm wrestle with very little scoring. It wasn’t from the lack of opportunities – there were plenty – but both sets of defences shone, Libby Coppinger and Shauna Healy just two that came up with some massive plays. And when it was necessary to take a yellow card, they did that too. 

Kilkenny extended Galway’s advantage when somehow escaping a phalanx of Cork defenders but Paudie Murray’s charges remained threatening without translating half-chances to scores, most notably when O’Connor blocked Sarah Healy but shot wide from a narrow angle. 

Cronin punished a foul on O’Connor and repeated that trick after Dolan had slotted from a free to leave a point between them at the water break, 0-11 to 0-10, though it had taken a miraculous block from Looney to deny Dolan a goal just before that. 

Cronin arced over a beauty from the right, after excellent work by the tireless Saoirse McCarthy and the teams were level. 

Collins had been introduced five minutes after the restart and was again a reliable outlet with her assured handling. The captain came up with a massive play to set up Mackey’s goal, winning a ball she had no right to, carrying and then delivering the perfectly weighted handpass. 

Mackey still had a bit to do coming in from the right but the Douglas forward unleashed a howitzer that gave Sarah Healy absolutely no chance. 

Croke Park shook but crucially, Galway did not. Dolan converted a free with her last act of the game before being withdrawn, having made a vital contribution after so long on the treatment table, and O’Reilly took over the placed ball duties, just finding the inside side of the post soon after. 

And it was the Oranmore-Maree attacker who provided the vital assist for the match-deciding score, giving McGrath that split-second she needed to transfer sliotar to hurley to angle a shot to the net. 

Cork had contributed splendidly to a wonderful occasion, and surely one of the highest-standard finals in the history of camogie. 

But it was Galway who took the spoils. 

SCORERS FOR GALWAY: C Dolan 0-6(fs); S McGrath 1-2; N Kilkenny, O McGrath, A O’Reilly(1f) 0-2 each, A Donohue 0-1 

SCORERS FOR CORK: O Cronin 0-6(4fs); K Mackey 1-1; H Looney 0-2; A Thompson, C Sigerson, A O’Connor 0-1 each 

CORK: A Lee, P Mackey, L Coppinger, M Cahalane, L Hayes, L Treacy, S McCarthy, H Looney, A Thompson, C O’Sullivan, F Keating, C Sigerson, K Mackey, A O’Connor, O Cronin. Subs: L Collins for O’Sullivan (36), C Healy for Keating (59) 

GALWAY: Sarah Healy, D Higgins, Shauna Healy, s Dervan, C Cormican, E Helebert, S Gardiner, N Kilkenny, A Donohue, C Dolan, S Spellman, C Finnerty, O McGrath, S McGrath, A O’Reilly. Subs: N Hanniffy for Finnerty (ht), R Hennelly for Dolan (51), A Starr for Cormican (60), N Coen for Spellman (60+1) 

REFEREE: Liz Dempsey (Kilkenny) 

The bond will always be there” Imelda Hobbins, captain of Galway’s first All-Ireland-winning team in 1996

All Ireland camogie final 1996 Imelda Hobbins of Galway and Stephanie Dunlea of Cork © INPHO / Lorraine O’Sullivan

It is the throng of faces and the multitude’s din as they snaked their way home that Imelda Hobbins thinks of. More than the honour of being the first Galway captain to lift the O’Duffy Cup, more than the cherished medal. 

The reaction took them all by surprise and it is among the highlights of an unforgettable occasions, as Galway defeated Cork by 4-8 to 1-15, to become All-Ireland Senior Camogie champions for the first time. 

That 1996 landmark is now a quarter of a century in the rear-view mirror, making the western pioneers this year’s Jubilee team. 

Which brings us to one of the other key elements of that squad, and what came from their historic triumph. 

The enduring friendships. 

“It will be great to be honoured, to get out on the pitch but it’s to be able to meet up with the girls,” says Hobbins, which is how she will always be known, even if she is a Mullins now. 

“It’s funny. You could try and do something like this yourself, but it’s hard to get everyone together. I think when Croke Park put this together and you’ve a chance to walk onto the pitch on All-Ireland final day, it provides more incentive! 

“But most of the group will be there. We have a couple of overseas but other than that, we have a good crew which is great. 

“It’s amazing. We spent so much time together. When you come back, you pick up where you left off. And you go straight back to the days of camogie. It’s back to the All-Ireland, the nights out, the different functions. ‘Remember when?’ All of these conversations start to flow back. There’s never an awkward period. It’s straight into chat. 

“That bond will always be there.” 

As a long-established analyst on Galway Bay FM, Hobbins will be rushing down from the media centre to accept the plaudits but she will undoubtedly be asked to reminisce on being the first winning captain. And it will be the journey west on Monday that will come to mind first. 

“On the day after the match, (the manager) Tony Ward and the county board were doing the plan for coming home, what time we’d put on it. We didn’t leave early enough because we didn’t anticipate the crowds. 

“It started in Athlone. We got off the bus and walked over the Shannon with the cup and there was a crowd there to meet us. And then, right through Galway. We would have done all our training in Loughrea, so we were aiming for that to be the main stop, where we’d have the crowd but my God, Ballinasloe was huge. 

“We came back to my own club, Mullagh, and Gurtymadden where I’m from. Again, we were just expecting to pull up there, and me as captain pop off and say a few words. I don’t know how long it took us to get through. It was absolutely phenomenal. I remember bonfire after bonfire the whole way, ‘til we finally finished in Craughwell at 2am in the morning. And here we were, trying to kill time before we left Dublin as we didn’t want to be down too early! 

“Galway Bay compared it at the time to the 1980 coming home for the hurlers, that it was nearly as big as that. And in camogie, we wouldn’t be used to it. But it was the first time to win it and then the county was starved for an All-Ireland win. It all came together. 

“The amount of small kids in Craughwell at 2am in the morning was unbelievable, it would bring you to tears. It was so emotional.” 

A multiple All-Ireland winner at schools’ level with St Raphael’s of Loughrea, Hobbins scored 2-3 as a secondary school student when Galway won the All-Ireland junior title in 1988. She progressed to the senior team from there, winning a National League medal in 1994 – Galway’s first national title and “a huge boost”. 

She was vice-captain the following year to Sharon Glynn and so stepped up to the plate in ’96. 

“I remember going to visit Sharon in hospital early in the year, talking about training and so on, and she said, ‘You’ll be captain this year and we’re going to win it.’ And I thought, ‘Oh God, I don’t think we’re going to win it!’ It just seemed so far away at that point. I was excited about being captain but I never thought I’d be lifting the O’Duffy. 

“The big decider in ’96 was Cork beat us in the League final by 15 points. At that stage we would have Cork up on a pedestal. Tony Ward said, ‘If ye put ye’re heads to it, ye’re good enough to win the All-Ireland.’ He started talking and we realised, ‘We have to start believing in ourselves.’ After that, the whole intensity in training up. We knew we weren’t far off but we just needed to get our heads right.” 

Even the morning of the final, with Cork in the opposite corner once more, Hobbins did harbour doubts. But Denise Gilligan removed those with her double strike. 

“It was just before half-time when Gilly got the goal. We were six points down before that and it was beginning to creep away. But when Gilly got the goal, that was when I felt it. And of course straight after half-time, another goal from Gilly. There was belief after that. 

“It’s hard to explain it. It was 12-a-side at that time, but when you play with girls, you can feel it. You know when things are going right and when they’re not. When that first goal went in from Gilly, you could feel the whole urgency through the team.” 

It was exhilaration at the final whistle and then the presentation. The euphoria is evident in photos as Hobbins lifted the trophy aloft. She is cemented in history as a result. 

And now, here they are back at Croke Park to be feted, 25 years elapsed. Different, but the same. 

Mothers, wives, workers, homemakers. 

But always, Galway’s first All-Ireland winners.

Match Preview – Galway United (h) v Treaty United

Galway United host Treaty United at Eamonn Deacy Park this Friday with kick-off at 7.45pm.

United go into this week’s fixture against a strong Treaty United side off the back of a hard-fought 1-0 away victory over Cabinteely last Friday. Mikie Rowe scored the all-important goal for the Tribesmen to keep John Caulfield’s team in 2nd place on the league table, six points behind table-toppers Shelbourne, with six games to go.

This week’s opponents, Treaty United, have been impressive throughout their first campaign in the First Division. The Limerick outfit are currently in 4th position on the table having defeated Cobh Ramblers 3-0 at the Market’s Field last week. Tommy Barrett’s side are two points behind United going into Friday’s fixture – three crucial points will be up for grabs with 1800 supporters allowed into Terryland for the first time this season.

United manager John Caulfield is looking forward to another challenging First Division contest on Friday night.

“Treaty are very strong defensively and the last two games have been very tight between the teams,” Caulfield told the club’s media team.

“They have a strong side who are good in the air and they defend really well; they don’t give away many goals. We are hoping to see a massive crowd on Friday night with the capacity being increased which should create a cracking atmosphere.

“Every week you have to be ready for the next match, anyone can beat anyone in this league. Hopefully we can kick on again this week against Treaty.”

John Caulfield is sponsored by McGinn’s Hophouse, Woodquay, Galway.

Galway United 2021 Squad

Conor Kearns, Luke Dennison, Conor O’Keeffe, Stephen Walsh, Gary Boylan, Killian Brouder, Maurice Nugent, Alex Murphy, Joe Gorman, Dean O’Shea, David Hurley, Shane Doherty, Mikie Rowe, Carlton Ubaezuonu, Caoilfhionn O’Dea, Mikey Place, Conor McCormack, Ronan Manning, Ruairi Keating, Padraic Cunningham, Wilson Waweru, Francely Lomboto, Colin Kelly.

Team News

Francely Lomboto, Ronan Manning and Carlton Ubaezuonu remain out of action due to injuries.

Conor Kearns misses this week’s fixture due to suspension while Maurice Nugent returns to the squad following a one-game suspension.