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Cork's special rivalry with Kilkenny, Davy Fitz arrival and camogie physicality

The Cork star lines out in another All-Ireland senior camogie final tomorrow.

Ashling Thompson (right) with Claire Phelan of Kilkenny at last week's All-Ireland camogie final media day.
Ashling Thompson (right) with Claire Phelan of Kilkenny at last week's All-Ireland camogie final media day.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

ASHLING THOMPSON IS one of the biggest names and most recognisable faces in camogie.

The midfield maestro has four All-Irelands and two All-Stars to her name with Cork, countless other accolades including three club Celtic crosses with Milford, and featured on TG4′s famous Laochra Gael series in 2018.

“She’s a leader, a warrior out on the field, a colossus,” as Matthew Twomey said last week in the run-up to tomorrow’s All-Ireland final against Kilkenny [throw-in 4.15pm, RTÉ 2].

The Rebels boss made those comments while speaking about her incredible impact on the semi-final victory over Waterford after her well-documented two-match suspension was overturned that morning.

The 32-year-old typically gave it “hell for leather” when sprung from the bench in the 22nd minute, with Cork yet to score at that point.

Thompson has parked that situation with excitement building now for the decider.

“Ah I don’t really like to dwell on it, to be honest. It’s funny because I’ve actually never been in that position myself before as a player. It was something that I don’t ever want to see from myself in the future as a player. It’s done and dusted and now we can move on and I’m very fortunate to be there for the next day.”

Thompson has been around for quite some time. This is her seventh All-Ireland final, having been a key driving force to the Leesiders’ glory in ’14, ’15, ’17 and ’18, and she’s as well-versed as anyone to talk about the state of the game.

More physicality has been allowed in camogie in recent times, with rule changes introduced in 2021 after endless calls from players and countless games turning into free-taking contests.

“Even Ray Kelly the last day in the semi-final, I thought he reffed it unbelievable, he let the game flow,” Thompson nods.

“When referees are whistle happy, it just doesn’t bring out the best. I think last year was a great example in the final, the game was let flow. Granted, you’ll always give out about a couple of decisions but you can only see the best of both teams, the best of camogie, the skill, everything that comes with it when you let the game flow.

“Even in terms of last year’s final people were telling me that they couldn’t get over the quality in terms of the players themselves and the athletes that they are now. I just hope and pray now that next Sunday it’ll be just let go for people to enjoy.”

Asked whether she finds games being let go more or inconsistency remaining from week to week, Thompson says it’s “definitely up and down”.

ashling-thompson-celebrates-after-the-game Thompson celebrating after last year's semi-final win over Kilkenny. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I’m obviously not going to point a finger at referees or pinpoint anyone in particular but yeah, it’s very up and down and of course that causes a lot of frustration.

“But I think just more so in terms of the visibility of the game, you’re not going to see it for what it is unless you let the game flow. I think if we can really get that right in the sport, it’ll be a massive help in promotion of the game.”

Cork and Kilkenny share a special rivalry, the counties regularly meeting in the business end of championship and on the biggest day.

They’ve contested four finals in the last 10 years, the Rebels triumphing by the minimum last time in ’18. Thompson describes the fierce pairing and renowned rivalry perfectly.

“I look forward to these games because we bring the best out in each other. I’ve a lot of respect for them as a team, we’ve been there long enough and no less than 100% is going to get us over the line.”

Should they do so, it will be under the tutelage of a new management team. Long-time boss Paudie Murray moved on in the wake of last year’s All-Ireland final defeat to Galway, with Matthew Twomey stepping up to take the reins.

A certain Davy Fitzgerald also arrived on the scene, with Thompson personally gaining “a lot” from the Clare legend.

“When you’re so used to a system for 10 years, change is a scary thing. But when you bring in someone like Davy, who has all the experience in the world, especially coming from a hurling background, we were delighted to see it.

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“Our pre-season was horrific but it was worth it because now we’re in an All-Ireland final. We’ve had over 10 new players this year, a lot of young girls too, but you’d genuinely never know.

“That’s the biggest thing that I take, that he (Davy) is incredible at gelling a squad, bringing them together and fighting for each other. When he’s with you, he’s with you and it filters down throughout the squad.”

davy-fitzgerald Davy Fitzgerald in focus, with Matthew Twomey to the fore. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

She laughs that she’d get in trouble for revealing the secrets of that horrific pre-season, but does offer insight on Twomey and his brave move to introduce Fitzgerald.

“It’s very easy to get on with Matthew Twomey. He’s a very laid-back guy but he’s brilliant in terms of that player management relationship.

“Obviously Davy has a big personality but Matthew is so calm and laid back that it was very easy for them to gel. The rest of the management are the same. We’re serious when we’re serious but there’s a lot of jokers there.”

Thompson is currently juggling work as a personal trainer in Charleville with her camogie commitments, but is hoping to branch out on her own in the future.

For now there’s one thing on her mind, claiming the O’Duffy Cup tomorrow.

“It’s 2018 since we’ve won a final, it’s a drought in Cork camogie. It mightn’t be for other counties but it’s a drought for us. 

“So look, it’s been a big motivator. The main thing was to get back to the final this year but unless we’re pushing to get over the line on Sunday there’s just no point in being there.

“We’ve worked hard enough, I think we have enough in the squad, management have done everything in their power to get us to this point so look, it’s down to the team at the end of the day.”

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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