Kilkenny camogie manager Brian Dowling says his charges cannot again start slowly if they are to have any hope of a second successive final win over Galway in Sunday’s Littlewoods Ireland League decider.
The reigning All-Ireland champions were noticeably sluggish out of the blocks in both their quarter and semi-finals, forced to rescue three and six-point deficits when overcoming Limerick and Tipperary respectively.
In last weekend’s come-from-behind semi-final win against Tipperary, Kilkenny - on home turf in UPMC Nowlan Park - went 20 minutes of the first-half without raising a flag of any description. Trailing by six on the half-hour mark, the home side were still all of five adrift six minutes from the end of the regulation hour.
If such a lead is afforded to Galway on Sunday, says Dowling, there will be no road back for his charges on this occasion.
“If we go that far behind against Galway, we won't be able to claw it back. The game will be over. We have to start better,” the Kilkenny boss insisted.
“After the water breaks in the first and second-half, we have to push it on more and stay in the game longer. I am trying to put my finger on what is the reason why we are going out of games. I am not really sure what it is. It is not something we can keep doing, we can't keep clawing back leads.
“Now, it is a good sign that we never give up and we just stay hanging in there. We did that against Limerick and Tipperary, especially against Tipperary. We were out on our feet and didn't really look like we could even get a point, never mind a couple of goals at the end.
Last December’s All-Ireland final win over Galway brought to an end a run of three straight All-Ireland final defeats for this Kilkenny group. But even after such a journey to secure what was for the majority of the panel a second All-Ireland medal, Dowling says the appetite for further silverware hasn’t dipped in the slightest.
The league performances of first-team newcomers Niamh Deely, Micheala Kenneally, Miriam Bambrick, and Lydia Fitzpatrick has meant last year’s first-team regulars have a fight on their hands to retain their starting berths come Championship.
“We want new girls pushing the girls that were there last year. The girls know if they are not performing they won't be starting, it is as simple as that.
“The likes of Miriam Bambrick, she is after getting a lot of game-time during the League; Mary O'Connell is starting every game; Niamh Deely didn't start in last year's championship, she is starting every game now. It is great exposure for these girls.
“We are learning huge amounts about our team. In the heat of battle in tough games when the pressure is on, that is where we are really learning about girls. Irrespective of what happens on Sunday, and obviously we want to win, the league has been hugely beneficial to us in terms of finding out about our players."