Former All-Star Elaine Aylward has said Kilkenny’s success in the All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship final on Sunday was a ‘monkey off of the county’s back', writes Peter McNamara.
The Mullinavat clubwoman, who featured as an analyst on The Sunday Game Live alongside Jill Horan and Anna Geary, illustrated her delight at the Cats’ triumph, their first for 22 years.
Team manager Ann Downey and Kilkenny made history at headquarters by overcoming Cork 1-13 to 1-9.
In truth, a greater margin of victory would not have flattered the Cats.
And Aylward explained the historical significance of their success.
“If you told Ann Downey 22 years ago that she would be the last Kilkenny captain going up those steps for the next 22 years she wouldn’t have believed it,” Aylward said on the Irish Examiner GAA Podcast. “Actually, nobody would.
“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been there or thereabouts and contested six finals since and been beaten in all six.
“So this is a real monkey off of the back with the girls getting to the promised land.”
The ripple effect of capturing the O’Duffy Cup will be keenly felt across the county, according to the 2009 All-Star.
Inter-county success at minor level has been quite a regular occurrence and Aylward now feels Kilkenny can push on at senior level too.
“This will do wonders for the game in Kilkenny. We have always had underage success in the county, between the Loreto school in Kilkenny and the minor successes.
“We have always failed to push on at senior level but I suppose Sunday’s victory will give massive inspiration to all of our other teams.
“To think that the player of the match, Julie Ann Malone wasn’t even born when Ann Downey went up the steps of the Hogan Stand.
“It’s mad to think that in Kilkenny, a county where children are brought up on hurling teams contesting and winning finals every year, or every second year that we haven’t seen a female team do it for 22 years.
“This win should give the girls massive motivation to drive on now, stick with the sport and hopefully we’ll see more good days for Kilkenny camogie again,” Aylward stressed.
When the All-Star awards are handed out in due course, Aylward believes three particular players from Downey’s side are practically nailed-on to collect one.
“There has been some massive performances all season from the whole team.
“Emma Kavanagh in goals has been so solid throughout the year.
“Even up until the last couple of minutes Sunday she was called upon to make a save from Eimear O’Sullivan and reacted superbly to it.
“So Emma’s definitely in the running for an All-Star.
“Denise Gaule is another. She has had a dream season. She was unstoppable Sunday but unerring as well in the semi-final from frees.
“And the amount of ball she got on the end of in the final was unreal.
“You could go on and on.
“For me, Julie Ann Malone had a dream All-Ireland final. In your first year at senior inter-county to come out with four excellent points from play and to be player of the match is sensational.
“You could name all 15, but there is definitely eight or nine All-Stars that will hopefully be coming back to Kilkenny in November,” she opined.
The question is: will the O’Duffy Cup remain on Noreside next year? Aylward says it can primarily because of this particular ‘breakthrough’.
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“Look, the clock goes back to zero in January and everyone starts on a level playing field again,” Aylward stated. “It’s been said in Kilkenny for a long time though that if we could make that one breakthrough that there might be more to follow.
“It’s obviously taken us a long time to make that breakthrough so obviously it depends on retirements, girls travelling, work commitments and what not.
“If they can keep the nucleus of that team together though and the management team in place Kilkenny are definitely capable of doing it again.
“We have had a huge turnover of managers over the years but Ann Downey had the X factor yesterday.
“She put a team in place around her that she knew was the right team for the job and they delivered.
“Of course, the girls that won with the intermediate team will also have an impact with the seniors in the next couple of years.
“Obviously, Cork will be back again, Galway were unlucky to have been beaten in the semi-final while Wexford gave Cork a great game in their semi-final so it does go back to zero again in January.
“If all of the elements fall into place though Kilkenny are more than capable of retaining the title,” she added.
Former All-Ireland-winning Cork captain Anna Geary felt Kilkenny’s skill-sets were matched by a mental strength required to prevail in the camogie showpiece.
“I have spoken to people about this in the last few days,” Geary explained. “I have always enjoyed playing Kilkenny throughout the seasons as they hurl.
“They always hurl and it’s a real joy to play against a team that loves to hurl as it's fundamentally about the ball.
“But yesterday it was the bottle they had to get over the line in a match like that was what set them apart.
“They matched their skills with the bottle you need.
“It was the first time in a long time that Kilkenny put a performance in during both halves.
“I had wondered if they could manage to put in a good second half after a positive first-half and they did that.
“Unfortunately for Cork, they probably hadn’t come up against a side that was playing with that level of intensity for 60-plus minutes as was the case.
“People have to give credit to Kilkenny. They were the better team on the day. And I’m sure a few of the Cork players will admit that.
“This Cork team will not go away but Sunday was all about Kilkenny and that raw hunger,” she added.