GALWAY 3-14 KILKENNY 0-17
One All-Ireland champion, but two winners.
Where Galway had cause for celebration, so too had the game of camogie itself.
There was the record-breaking crowd of 24,730, fantastic underdog stories in Westmeath and Kerry, and then a senior final to behold — easily the most engrossing camogie decider since Cork and Wexford shared six goals back in 2012. And, if we’re truthful, the quality of fare and score-taking on display yesterday surpassed 2012 and many other finals along with it.
Camogie needed this senior final, needed this spectacle, particularly after the arm-wrestles of 2017 and 2018, both of which were blighted by overly fussy officiating. In that light, referee Ray Kelly is to be commended for not enforcing himself on proceedings here.
Yes, the Galway crowd was none-too-pleased with some of the decisions they didn’t get, and yes, there were seven yellow cards doled out, but Kelly was only a bit-part figure in the overall narrative. He didn’t at any time seek to cast himself in a leading role.
The contrast between this game and the corresponding fixtures in 2017 and 2018 can be seen in the fact that Galway’s half-time total of 3-7 would have been sufficient to win both of those two finals.
It was Galway’s first-half performance which laid the foundation for their third O’Duffy Cup triumph, adding to the 1996 and 2013 wins.
As early as the 86th second, Galway had the sliotar in the Kilkenny net. Kilkenny had bagged the opening score, a Michelle Quilty free, but in the ensuing play, Aoife Donoghue and Niamh Kilkenny combined to put through Ailish O’Reilly and, no more than she did in the 2013 decider, the Oranmore/Maree forward kept her composure to supply the opening goal.
The next six points were evenly split, but Kilkenny asserted themselves thereafter, outscoring their opponents by 0-5 to 0-1 between the 10th and 20th minutes. Quilty was responsible for all bar one of these Kilkenny scores, her dead-ball accuracy punishing Galway’s indiscipline.
Denise Gaule also wrote her name onto the scoresheet, but she was one of a very small number of players in black and amber making any sort of impression in the opposition half.
Anne Dalton came into this final having hit 6-11 from open play, but was a spectator in that opening half, such was the marshalling job done by forward-turned-defender Caitriona Cormican. There were others who will harbour regrets over their respective performances. That Kilkenny didn’t create a single gilt-edged goal chance highlights the extent to which their attack misfired, even if they did post 0-17.
The league champions made the crucial burst on the run-up to half time, hitting 2-3 to Kilkenny’s solitary white flag. Sarah Healy’s puck-out strategy of landing possession in the middle of Kilkenny’s half-back line, with Galway swarming in numbers under the breaking ball, reaped significant rewards. It was from one such restart that Galway struck for goal number two, Niamh Hanniffy scrambling the sliotar home after Ailish O’Reilly and Sarah Spellman had been thwarted.
That score put Galway into a 2-6 to 0-10 lead and there was five between them little over a minute and a half later as O’Reilly drilled home her second, taking advantage of a mistake by a Kilkenny defender who failed to hold on to possession when attempting to intercept a Niamh Kilkenny pass.
The winners led 3-7 to 0-10 at the break, but could have had two more green flags as Emma Kavanagh and Kellyann Doyle both produced goal-line heroics in quick succession, while Catherine Foley’s last-ditch hook denied Catherine Finnerty.
Galway’s intermediate counterparts had held a similar advantage at the interval before losing their way against Westmeath, and this was referenced at half time.
“I didn’t mention it, the girls did, though,” said Galway manager Cathal Murray. “It was said that we couldn’t let the same thing happen and we had to start the second half well. And we did.”
Still, four in a row from Ann Downey’s charges reduced the gap to three.
Galway reasserted to lead by five again. Another burst of three unanswered Cats points left just two between them on 50 minutes. And when Carrie Dolan sent wide a routine free thereafter, you wondered if Galway were about to stiffen as the finishing line came into view.
They did anything but.
Murray’s side clipped the last four points of this contest, one of which was a difficult free converted by Dolan, while the inspirational Niamh Kilkenny sent over a brace.
“This is my sixth All-Ireland final and we lost four in 2008, ’10, ’11 and ’15, so I could write a book on losing All-Ireland finals,” 30-year old Kilkenny said afterwards.
That may be so, but it was her, more than anyone else, who dictated the narrative of this 2019 All-Ireland final. Just reward for well over a decade of service given.
For Kilkenny, a third straight final defeat, and fifth this decade. They too could write a book on final heartbreak.
Scorers for Galway: C Dolan (0-6, 0-4 frees, 0-2 45s); A O’Reilly (2-0); N Kilkenny (0-4); N Hanniffy (1-0); S Spellman, N Coen, Sarah Healy (0-1 free), C Finnerty (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kilkenny: M Quilty (0-8, 0-7 frees); D Gaule (0-3, 0-1 free); A Dalton (0-2, 0-1 free); D Tobin, M Walsh, A Farrell, A Doyle (0-1 each).
GALWAY: Sarah Healy; Shauna Healy, S Dervan, H Cooney; E Helebert, C Cormican, L Ryan; A Donoghue, N Kilkenny; C Dolan, S Spellman, N Coen; C Finnerty, N Hanniffy, A O’Reilly.
Subs: AM Starr for Coen (43 mins); R Hennelly for Spellman (50).
KILKENNY: E Kavanagh; C Dormer, C Foley, G Walsh; K Doyle, C Phelan, E Keane; M Farrell, D Tobin; D Gaule, A Dalton, A Farrell; M Quilty, M Walsh K Power.
Subs: A Doyle for Keane (27 mins); D Morrissey for Doyle (56).
Referee: R Kelly (Kildare).