Out of all of Galway’s three All-Ireland senior successes, I imagine this one will tick all the boxes. Not alone because they have beaten two of the best teams in the country — Cork and Kilkenny — but when the Cats brought it down to a dogfight in the second half, their determination and resolve could not be questioned.
They, along with Kilkenny, contributed to the kind of All-Ireland final that camogie supporters had craved. In contrast to the two previous low-scoring finals, there was widespread praise among the 24,730-strong crowd after this edge-of-the-seat encounter. The game of camogie was the big winner, showcased all through as the spectacle it is.
In the end, it was the commitment and sheer brilliance of each and every one of the Galway women that saw Sarah Dervan mount the steps of the Hogan Stand to collect the O’Duffy Cup. For me, the work-rate of Niamh Kilkenny was Galway’s inspiration. The midfielder weighed in with four unbelievable points from play. Kilkenny, from the Pearses club, is one of Galway’s more seasoned contributors, and her vital presence was felt all through.
Galway didn’t have the best start to the day either, which makes this triumph all the more memorable. When news broke yesterday morning in Croke Park that regular wing-back Tara Kenny was out, having suffered a cruciate ligament injury in recent days, the immediate feeling was one of heartbreak for the Sarsfields players, but also concern that there would have to be a significant reshuffle to the Galway back six. Such an alteration would surely have serious consequences, especially against Kilkenny’s potent attack.
After all, this was a maroon-and-white defensive unit that had excelled all season. And secured a National League title, which kickstarted this momentous journey.
Incredibly, the Galway management still got all the necessary duels spot on.
Mountebellow/Moylough’s Catherine Finnerty was the replacement off the bench. And while it meant that
Cathal Murray had to switch some of his key players to facilitate the alteration — Catriona Cormican moving to half-back to mark Kilkenny dangerwoman Anne Dalton and Finnerty coming into attack — they remained resolute in defence while still managing to fly out of the traps.
They fired three goals and 14 points in one of their best performances all year. Ailish O’Reilly’s goals — one at the start and one at the end of the first half — were sheer quality. She played a part in Niamh Hannify’s goal too. It was evident O’Reilly was their go-to forward. Her first goal set the tone, rocking Kilkenny to the core. It gave Galway the dream start against a Cats outfit that now has suffered a third straight loss on All-Ireland final day — their fifth in six years.
O’Reilly’s second goal — Galway’s third — was the killer blow on the brink of half time after a ferocious opening 30 minutes which saw so many players put their bodies on the line. Galway were six points up at the break — the same margin they emerged victorious by. Kilkenny, meanwhile, had relied heavily on the free-taking accuracy of Michelle Quilty and went to the dressing room rattled by what Galway had brought to the table — pure aggression, physicality, and unbelievable will-to-win.
Kilkenny boss Ann Downey needed to get her charges, who were fortunate not to have conceded another couple of goals, into the dressing room — and fast. Kilkenny steadied the ship in the second half, but were always chasing this game. To their credit, they cut the margin to two points and it looked like the comeback was on. But cool heads, and a couple of late Galway scores, saw them through.
All of this after Galway — under the same management — had lost out to Westmeath in the intermediate final an hour earlier. What a turnaround from the Leinster team, who were seven points behind at half time, to win by two. They played in the Premier Junior grade just two years ago, and nobody more than long-serving Pamela Greville (who scored 0-9) deserves to play top-flight camogie.
To conclude, we should also applaud superb Kerry. Led by the excellent Patrice Diggin and having lost 12 months ago to Dublin, they deserved every bit of their victory in the Premier Junior final. Their massive support was evident around the arena, with lots of green and gold flying from early morning.
It was hard luck on Limerick, but they found Kerry that little bit too strong. They say you learn more in defeat, and it was no surprise to see the Ian Brick managed the team back again. It was an extraordinary achievement considering 14 of the starting 15 are from the Clanmaurice club, with Bríd Horan from Cillard the only exception.
It’s safe to assume the Kathleen Mills Cup got some reception in Causeway last night.