“It’s absolutely great to get to play in Croke Park, to run out on to the pitch. That’s the first thing and after that, it’s winning!”
She was speaking after a dramatic semi-final victory in Nowlan Park on Saturday, achieved with a winning goal in the fourth of six minutes of added time, in circumstances Galway manager Liam Donoghue found difficult to come to terms with.
The irony is that the Westerners won in similar fashion at the same stage there against Wexford 12 months ago. It led the Kilkenny boss to remark: “Galway now know how Wexford felt,” she commented.
Said Donoghue: “I still can’t believe it, to be honest. I really thought our preparation was spot on. But over the 60 minutes if you don’t take your chances you are going to leave the opposition in it – and that’s what we did today.”
With Kilkenny hopes boosted by a fourth consecutive minor title success recently, the belief that they could win this game (articulated by Downey afterwards) seemed to be justified by their success in limiting Galway to a two-point lead at half time (0-9 to 0-7) after they had played against the wind. On the other hand, it might have been a different story if goalkeeper Catriona Ryan had not brought off a double save from Veronica Curtin and Orla Kilkenny, in turn, minutes before the interval.
Interestingly, while her team maintained a strong challenge, Downey felt they could be even more competitive, stating: “Galway had done a lot of the hurling. We had to step up to the mark. We didn’t in the first half. In the second half we certainly did.”
To Galway’s credit, they also lifted their standard on the resumption and while lucky not to concede a goal (to Edwina Keane) in the 32nd minute, they were to be denied by another fine save by the ‘keeper from Curtin shortly afterwards.
However, while they had the ball in the net in the 38th minute, they were to go without another score until three minutes from the end of normal time. But, they still managed to remain in the lead through that period, largely as a result of some outstanding defensive play. Team captain Sinead Cahalan excelled at centre-back and – at a time when just two points separated the sides – she made a vital intercept when Kilkenny seemed certain to goal.
They again lived dangerously when substitute Marie O’Connor pointed for Kilkenny in the 57th minute when she should have put the ball in the net and when Brenda Hanney produced an overdue Galway point after some bad misses, there was every chance that they would survive. And they would have, but O’Connor did not made the same mistake from a gilt-edged chance in the 64th minute.
Wing-back Elaine Aylward, who made the opening, explained: “The ball broke and there was only one option. Marie was free inside and no better woman to put it away.”
O’Connor, last year’s captain, was thrilled with the opportunity to compensate for her earlier error. And she was just as complimentary. “Elaine has been brilliant all year, she’s a driving force there in the half-back line.”
Scorers for Kilkenny: A. Neary 0-6 (0-5 frees, 0-1 ‘45); M. O’Connor 1-1; D. Gaule (0-2 frees) and K. Power 0-2 each; A. Dalton and M. Quilty 0-1 each.
Galway: O. Kilkenny 1-0; T. Maher and A. Connolly (0-1 free) 0-3 each; V. Curtin and B. Hanney 0-2 each; J. Gill 0-1.
KILKENNY: C. Ryan; L. Fennelly, C. Doherty, J. Frisby; E. Aylward, A. Butler, L. Young; C. Dormer, A. Dalton (capt.); E, Keane, K. Power, T. Muldowney; M. Quilty, D. Gaule, A. Neary.
Subs: A. Dunphy for Quilty and M. O’Connor for Frisby (43); A. Fahy for Muldowney (59).
GALWAY: S. Earner; R. Glynn, A. Kelly, T. Manton; A.M. Hayes, S. Cahalan (capt.), N. Kilkenny; S. Tannion, L. Ryan; B. Hanney, T. Maher, J. Gill; V. Curtin, O. Kilkenny, A. Connolly.
Subs: C. Glynn for Ryan (48); C. Cormican for Gill (54); A. Hillary for Tannion (58).
Referee: Cathal Egan (Cork).