All shoulders were put to the wheel this year in an effort to regain the O’Duffy Cup, and it turned out to be a day to savour for the Black and Amber. A clean sweep of intermediate and senior titles.
This senior final was greatly anticipated, especially since the two extra-time semi-finals last month. There was much debate as to who might succeed. Four of the country’s top players gave their verdicts in a newspaper yesterday — two for Kilkenny, one for a draw, and one for Cork. Now, if that didn’t get us thinking.
Cork were going for three-in-a-row but just like the Kilkenny hurlers, it proved a bridge too far. These Rebels and management don’t owe the game anything, but yesterday they were flat, never reaching the highs we have become accustomed to.
They led after 10 minutes, four points to three, but that was as good as it got. They had no answer to the Cats’ work-rate, who were tenacious to a woman. Twenty-two barren years fuelled an enormous Kilkenny hunger.
Paudie Murray said earlier in the week, if Kilkenny got space they would win. Well, they got plenty of it. They positioned two inside forwards and proceeded to crowd the middle third. Captain Michelle Quilty and Katie Power started in the full-forward line while Denise Gaule ventured out as a third midfielder. They worked the ball up the wings, this was to curtail the influence of Gemma O’Connor at centre-back.
Kilkenny won the toss (they did in both matches) and must have been delighted to go to the dressing-room with a two-point cushion. However, Kilkenny came back out with all guns blazing. We will use that word again — work-rate. They were phenomenal, this time with wind advantage.
Ann Downey and co had their homework done. Play out wide was the game-plan, and play it fast. They were a joy to watch. Their first-touch was superb and when in full flow they were impossible to stop. They were fighting, and winning, almost every corner. A marvellous third quarter put the wheels for victory in motion.
They outhit Cork 1-5 to a point. Massive plaudits to Gaule, Julie Ann Malone and Power. And to Shelly Farrell who netted the only goal that effectively killed the game. Ann Dalton and Collette Dormer were tremendous in a tenacious Kilkenny back six. All three Farrell sisters (Meighan, Anna and Shelly) immense too, making up for the disappointment of brother Jonjo the previous week.
As the game wore on, uncertainty crept into Cork’s play. At the three-quarter mark, they trailed by nine points. While Kilkenny didn’t add to their tally of 1-13, they defended like their lives depended on it.
Gemma O’Connor got a second-yellow card with a little under 10 minutes left to play, and while Cork finished with 1-2 (the goal from an Orla Cotter free), the long run of bitter losses drove the Leinster side. Since 2009 alone, Kilkenny have been defeated in three All-Ireland finals — two of these to Cork.
Seven of the side that fell to the Red and White in 2009 started yesterday’s final — Jacqui Frisby, Collette Dormer, Ann Dalton, Katie Power, Edwina Keane, Michelle Quilty and Denise Gaule. And two more who were subs that day — Keeva Fennelly and Áine Fahy — played their part in the Kilkenny intermediate success.
Getting the afternoon off to a positive start was a big plus for Kilkenny. Mike Wall and Ger Walsh’s team emerged with a point to spare. The co-managers led the minors to All-Ireland success last year, and eight of that team were the driving force behind this success. So too, Keeva Fennelly, underage international soccer star Jenny Clifford and Edel Frisby — the Frisby sisters winning intermediate and senior honours on the same day.
So, a lucky 13th senior title for Kilkenny. Ann Downey and her twin sister Angela proving to be as irrepressible. Paddy Mullaly and Conor Phelan also deserve credit in the back-room squad.
Carlow had their day in the sun as well. They came to Croke Park for the first time and showed fierce character to take the honours in the Premier Junior final.