Moments after Kilkenny had accounted for a gallant but tiring Tipperary with a last-quarter score rush, 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 the teams met in the National League Final at Croke Park last March, however, and while Kilkenny had their noses in front at the final whistle in the subsequent Championship group outing, the Tribeswomen will not fear the Cats having 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 job done by 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 a goal and nine points and, Denise Gaule profited from the increasing space with five points from play in the second half and a more advanced Anne Dalton brought her tally for the campaign to 6-11 from play with a peach of a goal.
But Downey emphasised the endeavours of others to create the opportunities. Katie Power created a number of chances but in the first half especially, when the Cats were second best for periods, Miriam Walsh’s power, graft and unselfishness were at the root of a number of scores, including Quilty’s 21st-minute major.
“Denise and Anne and Michelle are well able to score points but it’s the girls that work behind that, to make that score for them, are equally as important.
“As I keep saying, it’s a team effort, it’s not about individuals and the girls don’t want it to be about individuals.”
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 to the Kilkenny net, their lead was deserved.
Even after Quilty’s goal, they hit the front once more thanks to points from the impressive Eibhlís McDonald, Cáit Devane and Niamh Treacy but when Dalton finished sumptuously after Caoimhe Bourke had saved brilliantly from Quilty to make it 2-9 to 1-8 at the break, it was 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,” Lillis stated. “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.
“We had no doubt as management that we were going to turn up and play but we conceded a goal just on half-time that didn’t help us. But 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.”
It has been a good season for Tipp but it is over now. In contrast, Kilkenny are preparing for a sixth All-Ireland Final in seven seasons on September 8, having only won one of the previous five.
“(We’re) looking forward to getting back to Croke Park again,” Downey asserted. “It’s where every Camogie 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 (0-5fs); 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(fs); E McDonald 0-3; A McGrath (free), O O’Dwyer, K Kennedy 1-0 each; Megan Ryan, N Treacy, E Fryday 0-1 each
KILKENNY: 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)
TIPPERARY: 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)