Moments after Kilkenny had accounted for a gallant but tiring Tipperary with a late rush of scores, Ann Downey was enjoying the luxury of looking forward to watching the second Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship semi-final between Cork and Galway.
The competitor that Downey has always been would have relished the challenge of overturning the last two one-point final defeats by the Rebels.
Galway got the upper hand when they met Kilkenny in the National League final at Croke Park last March however, and while the Cats had their noses in front at the final whistle in the subsequent Championship group outing, the Tribeswomen will be feeling fearless, having just edged out Cork in a thriller.
The Kilkenny boss will recognise the extent of the examination that’s coming down the tracks, but for now, it was a case of ‘job done’ for the Noresiders.
“Semi-finals are for winning,” said Downey.
We always knew Tipperary were going to put it up to us and they got off to a great start, but in fairness to the girls, they stuck to the task, threw the ball over the bar any opportunity they got.
Michelle Quilty was player of the match after scoring 1-9, Denise Gaule profited from the increasing space with five points from play in the second half, while a more advanced Anne Dalton brought her personal tally for the campaign to 6-11 from play with a peach of a goal.
Tipp settled immediately, with Orla O’Dwyer and Megan Ryan prominent in attack, and while there was an element of fortune to Aoife McGrath’s free from outside the 65 going all the way into the Kilkenny net, their lead was deserved.
Even after Quilty’s goal, Tipp hit the front once more thanks to points from the impressive Eibhlís McDonald, Cáit Devane, and Niamh Treacy, but when Dalton finished superbly after Caoimhe Bourke had saved brilliantly from Quilty to make it 2-9 to 1-8 at the break, it proved to be a killer blow.
Kilkenny had the wind in their favour in the second half and Quilty, Power, Gaule, and Kellyanne Doyle hit the target as the Cats moved 12 points clear, though Niamh Lillis’ charges showed admirable grit to plunder two late goals from O’Dwyer and Karen Kennedy.
The Tipp manager was understandably proud of her crew’s efforts.
“You can’t take it from Kilkenny,” said Lillis. “They’re a superb outfit and they showed their class. We didn’t die. We could have given up, but we didn’t. We brought that back and maybe another five or 10 minutes we might have brought it back another bit. Our plan was not just to take part, it was to tear into it and we did, and I can’t compliment the girls enough.”
Now that the dust has settled, Kilkenny are preparing for a sixth All-Ireland final in seven seasons, having only won one of the previous five.
“(We’re) looking forward to getting back to Croke Park again,” said Downey.
“It’s where every player wants to be. For this group of players, they’ve put in so much effort, they’ve had so much heartache, it’s just great to be back there now. When you’re in it you have a chance of winning it. If you’re not in it, you can’t.”
Scorers for Kilkenny: M Quilty (1-9, 5fs); D Gaule (0-6, 1f); A Dalton (1-1); K Power (0-2); E Keane, A Farrell, K Doyle (0-1 each).
Scorers for Tipperary: C Devane (0-6, frees); E McDonald (0-3); A McGrath (1-0, free), O O’Dwyer, K Kennedy (1-0 each); Megan Ryan, N Treacy, E Fryday (0-1 each).
E Kavanagh, C Dormer, C Foley, G Walsh, D Tobin, C Phelan, E Keane, K Doyle, M Farrell, K Power, A Dalton, A Farrell, M Quilty, M Walsh, D Gaule.
Subs for Kilkenny: D Morrissey for Quilty (56).
C Bourke, C Quirke, J Bourke, E Loughman, A McGrath, K Kennedy, Mart Ryan, N Treacy, N Walsh, O O’Dwyer, Megan Ryan, E Fryday, C Devane, M Campion, E McDonald.
Subs for Tipperary: C Purdue for Treacy (43), K Blair for Campion (56).
Referee: John Dermody (Westmeath)