Emma Kilkelly collapsed on the Nowlan Park turf, her camogie season over in an instant.
Two minutes from half-time in last month’s All-Ireland semi-final, Kilkelly gathered possession in front of the Old Stand. Planting her right foot in the ground, the Galway half-forward sought to jink left of Wexford’s Deirdre Codd, but wound up on the grass. In agony.
An MRI scan confirmed the worst. ACL tear. Season over.
A permanent fixture in the Galway half-forward line over recent years, including the 2013 All-Ireland win, Kilkelly first broke onto the senior squad in 2005 and 10-years later, she is among the most experienced members of Tony Ward’s panel. The disappointment at missing tomorrow’s final continues to linger.
“I tried to change the direction in my run to get out of a tackle and I felt a real sharp, severe pain in my knee,” she recalls. “I knew I had done some damage, but I was still hoping for the best until I knew for sure.
“Initially, when you are told you can’t play in an All-Ireland final, it is severe disappointment. On top of that, the nature of this injury is that you are away from the game for a long time which is hard to digest as well.
“Camogie is such a big part of my life and has been for such a long time. It is central to everything that you do. It is probably the worst news you can get as a player.
“Throughout my playing career, I was never faced with a serious injury, thank God. A whole range of emotions go through your head then when you hear the news. Disappointment is the only word, I can use.” Kilkelly, who has attended every training session since, admits the lead-in to All-Ireland final Sunday moves at a far slower pace when forced to watch from the sidelines.
“It is different to 2013 and the other finals in the years before that. Going to training has been a big help, being in and around the girls. Really, you don’t want to be standing back and watching them, you want to be in the thick of it. The girls have been extremely supportive of me. I feel very much part of it. You are looking to contribute in another way. There is no room for self-pity when you are involved in a set-up like this. It is not about you.
“Everything has to be about the good of the panel. Whatever job I can do on match-day, however big or small it is, I’ll be doing it.”
Sitting alongside Kilkelly tomorrow in the Hogan Stand will be her niece, Orlaith McGrath, daughter of two-time All-Ireland-winning Galway hurler Michael ‘Hopper’ McGrath. The youngest of the three McGrath sisters on the panel, Orlaith tore her ACL in the closing stages of their league final win over Cork in early May. Carrying the family flag will be Clodagh and Niamh McGrath, the latter hitting 1-7 in the league final and 0-8 in their championship meeting back in June.
The pair’s mother and Galway camogie chairperson, Geraldine, is an older sister of Emma’s.
“You’d be telling them to get out and enjoy the occasion, make the most of it, work hard and play right through the 60 minutes. This is Clodagh’s first senior All-Ireland. She was there with the intermediates in 2013. She is hard-working and I am in no doubt that she will do fine.”
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