How fitting that it should be Ann Downey who masterminded the end of the Kilkenny famine.
As a player, Downey was involved in Kilkenny’s first 12 All-Ireland final victories. As a manager, she yesterday delivered title number 13. Downey served as captain in 1994, Kilkenny’s last O’Duffy Cup success prior to this four-point win. That she’ll no longer wear the title of ‘Kilkenny’s last winning camogie captain’ doesn’t bother her in the slightest. She wore it for long enough.
“It was a monkey on my back alright, to be quite honest,” said Downey who returned as manager for the 2016 campaign having previously held the job from 2009-11. “I had to keep reminding the girls at training that I was kind of sick of it. I’m just delighted that they’ve made their own history.
“22 years is a long time, considering that Kilkenny had won seven in-a-row [in the mid-eighties]. Who would have ever have said that we’d have had to wait 22 years for another All-Ireland after the ’94 win? I just can’t believe it.
“There are some great camogie players that have gone and haven’t won All-Irelands. But as I said, this crowd of girls that we had today and the panel we had stuck with us, believed in us, and that’s what it was about.”
So, how does victory in Croke Park as manager compare with her many wins at GAA HQ inside the whitewash?
“It’s so different. Once they go out onto the pitch, what can you do? They’re on their own, you can’t do anything about it when they’re out on the pitch. If you’re playing yourself you can make a run or try to do something. Today, I’m just delighted. It’s a moment in time, something that will live with me forever.”
And how dearly she would have loved if her late father Shem – an All-Ireland medal winner with the Kilkenny hurlers in 1947 – was present to share the moment with her.
“My first thought [after the final whistle] was about my father because the last time we were here, he was here with us. I know he was spurring us on today. He was such a camogie follower and loved the game. I know he’d be delighted for me. So that was my first thought. And then for the girls, the work that they’ve put in. They’re such lovely girls to work with. Regardless of what we asked them to do, there was no arrogance about them. They took the correction and worked hard.”
Some, mind you, took instruction better than others. Ann Dalton played at midfield during the final defeats in 2009, ’13 and ’14. Known more for her attacking style, Dalton was redeployed to the half-back line this summer.
“We played most of the league with Ann at number 12 and Ann didn’t take too kindly to have to go back centre-back, if we’re being quite honest. We had to talk her around it for the Offaly game. She said to me one night, ‘I won’t win an All-Ireland playing at centre-back’. We needed her there because Edwina [Keane] was struggling during the year because she was back studying in college. We just felt she was a little bit off the pace. When Ann Dalton went back centre-back, Edwina really came into her own and had a great season after that.
“Davina Tobin had to sacrifice her game because she has great speed. But we didn’t have a full-back because Kate McDonald had to emigrate to Dubai for work. Davina is usually number seven and went in full-back without any hesitation.”
The manager concluded: “This is a huge win. I think even for the club scene at home this win will really set the standard again because when we won our first back in ’74, the clubs just mushroomed around us.
“I think that’ll bring the emphasis back on camogie again in Kilkenny and it was long overdue, to be honest.
“I’m hoping that it will push the bar higher for the girls and I think we’ll get better from here. I said a long time ago that if they had won before this they’d be there for a while and I think this team will be.”
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