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The 3 key battles that will decide Cork and Galway's All-Ireland camogie final

These match-ups will prove crucial in Sunday’s Liberty Insurance decider.

1. Ashling Thompson (Cork) v Niamh Kilkenny (Galway)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Whether or not the two captains and midfielders are marking each other directly, how they fare in their identical duties will play a huge part in determining the outcome of this game.

They are both strong runners who cover both ends of the pitch equally adeptly. Kilkenny really likes to go at defences and is very quick and skilful. Her over-the-shoulder point while moving backwards towards the end of Galway’s narrow win over Cork in the very first game of the championship was a perfect encapsulation of her ability and leadership.

Ironically though, that came after a game in which she had been quieter than usual, while Thompson excelled. Kilkenny had destroyed Cork with her pace in the first half of the league final in Thurles but struggled as the Rebels cut out the space with extra bodies in the Tullamore rematch. She is sure to face similar problems at Croke Park and it will be interesting to see if she can find a way of dealing with that.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Thompson is physical and industrious, a key operator when it comes to winning back possession and setting the attack in motion. She contributes a point or two a game habitually too though and will punish any misplaced clearances. Her fearlessness aerially and on the deck, and willingness to take the battle to the opposition clearly inspires.

There is the distinct possibility that both these players will perform to an extremely high standard, even if they are going toe-to-toe. That’s how good they are. If one gets the upper hand on the other though, it could decide who gets her hands on the O’Duffy Cup.

2. Pamela Mackey & Laura Tracey (Cork) v Ailish O’Reilly & Molly Dunne (Galway)

Molly Dunne and Ailish O'Reilly celebrate at the final whistle Galway pair Molly Dunne and Ailish O'Reilly. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Galway have been scoring goals all season and were particularly threatening in the league when a full-forward line of Orlaith McGrath, Dunne and O’Reilly made hay with their speed, movement and eye for the onion sack. They tormented Cork in the aforementioned league decider until McGrath suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury towards the end of the first half.

That reduced the danger of the westerners’ attack and it is notable that a number of different players have appeared in the right corner since.

Nonetheless, O’Reilly continues to cause problems for right corner-backs as an outlet and Galway will ensure there is plenty of space in front of her. Meanwhile, Dunne has that priceless capacity for being in the right place at the right time. She would be short-priced favourite if there was betting on first or anytime goalscorer.

Laura Tracey Cork's Laura Tracey. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Pamela Mackey is acknowledged as one of the best marking defenders in camogie though and her switch back to the corner has had a huge impact on Cork. She has the pace and durability to shadow O’Reilly.

Tracey has graduated to full-back from the corner, having won an All-Ireland in her first full season, and looks comfortable there. Although she has done well generally on Dunne in the year’s two games, the full-forward has still managed to find the net. If Tracey could stop that happening this time, Cork would be feeling good.

One word of warning though. They must curb the threat without conceding frees or Niamh McGrath will make them pay.

3. Amy O’Connor (Cork) v Sarah Dervan (Galway)

Sarah Dervan Galway star Sarah Dervan. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Cork attack has looked forlorn at times as the team has adopted a sweeper system at various stages in recent years. With such a turnover of players this year, particularly in defence, Paudie Murray has been keen to protect his younger players but the transition to the attack has been a struggle.

Ball-winning and particularly ball-carrying are vital traits when there isn’t so much support around and Amy O’Connor is lightning quick. Her close control is excellent and despite not being particularly tall, manages to make it very difficult for opposition defenders to dispossess her once she gets on the ball.

She has a nose for scores of the major or minor variety, and is particularly good at fastening onto the breaks.

Amy OÕConnor celebrates scoring her side's second goal Cork's Amy O'Connor celebrates her National League final goal against Galway. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

This is the challenge for Sarah Dervan but it is one she will relish. A teak tough operator, the Mullagh star is a fine stickwoman so she can play from the front. Her strength means that getting her hands on the ball will only be the start of the battle for O’Connor.

It is the Cork woman’s ability to drift into pockets of space that Dervan must be wary of though, because once she gets going, O’Connor is really hard to stop. And even if she doesn’t get scores herself, she attracts defenders, leaving the equally pacey Julia White and Katrina Mackey with opportunities.

Dervan has been imperious all season and is a leading contender for an All Star. Nullifying O’Connor would be a hammer blow to the champions.

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About the author:

Daragh Ó Conchúir

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