Doyle's remarkable comeback story epitomises spirited Kilkenny triumph
Kilkenny 1-14 Galway 1-11
Having tasted defeat in the last three All-Ireland finals, the women of Kilkenny simply would not go home without the O'Duffy Cup on this December Saturday.
With a display shaped by courage, conviction and some wholehearted endeavour, they got the better of last year's champions Galway to win their first Championship since 2016. In the end, it was the scoring of the nerveless Denise Gaule that saw them over the final hurdle but in truth, there were inspired women in black and amber all over Drumcondra’s winter chill.
From the early exchanges, Meighan Farrell epitomise this heart and desire, making her presence felt with a number of game-saving hooks, blocks and interventions. At the other end of the field, Katie Nolan was just as effective, her first touch faster and sharper than all others on the field. Nolan scored a point but her true impact was felt in the winning of 50:50 balls which she duly laid off in an inviting and purposeful manner. Claire Phelan, once again, roared into the game when it was in the melting pot while Aoife Doyle's pace caused Galway problems they were unable to solve.
For Galway, Aillish O'Reilly and the two McGraths were always dangerous when they got a sniff of it, but for them this game was lost in the middle third, where an insatiable Kilkenny always looked that bit hungrier.
The game started at a pulsating tempo, with referee Owen Elliott diligently applying this year's more lenient rules. At times indeed, you wondered what it would actually take to earn a free out there, but at the same time, the free-flowing nature lended to the spectacle.
And for parts of that first half, what a spectacle it was. Galway started the brighter with Siobhan McGrath justifying her late inclusion on the team, turning on a sixpence before slinging over a fine point from distance to open her side's account.
Having lost the last three finals, the spirited women of @KilkennyCamogie bounced back once again, and this time they simply wouldn't take no for an answer.
The O'Duffy Cup is heading back to Kilkenny, what an admirable team ⚫️🟡 pic.twitter.com/h4ZMv4SivL
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) December 12, 2020
Kilkenny had the stomach for a battle though. In that sense, Meighan Farrell led her troops with a number of lunging interceptions as she attacked this game without fear. The Thomastown centre back is a warrior-like figure who stands back from nothing, and under pressure, she inspired those around her with fellow Cats' defenders Grace Walsh, Claire Phelan and Michelle Teehan winning some crunch possessions. Behind them, Aoife Norris was a calming and confident figure in the goals.
You would have to say Galway's attackers looked the more dangerous of the two teams in the early stages however, with Aoife Donohue's rampaging runs from deep causing consternation inside while the two McGraths roamed dangerously.
Denise Gaule and Carrie Dolan exchanged frees before Ann Dalton opened her account with a well-taken score for Brian Dowling's team. Aoife Doyle too, struck one of the scores of the night as she left the Galway defence in her wake before landing one from the sideline.
Galway had threatened once though, with Aoife Donohue clean through on goal only to have been called back due to a throw ball. Moments later, there was no mistake though as the McGrath sisters combined well before Orlaith cooly finished past Norris. That put Galway two up at the break, and they certainly looked the more likely victors then with Tara Kenny having a brilliant game in the half back line.
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) December 12, 2020
But Kilkenny thundered into the game upon the resumption, and you gradually got the sense that they were not in the mood to go home empty handed. The impressive Aoife Doyle could have had goals, but she fashioned points to keep piling on the pressure. Gaule was becoming more and more influential while Kelly Ann Doyle - starting at midfield - won a number of dirty balls. When you consider that the Piltown player had torn her cruciate knee ligament in the League back in March, it makes her display all the more remarkable. Not many would have made it here, but an inner determination over the lock-down brought her back.
Niamh Kilkenny wouldn't go down without a fight, the player of 2019 hitting a remarkable score towards the finish. But Gaule put it beyond Galway's reach when converting a penalty that she had won herself. Substitute Laura Murphy then won a crucial free to seal the deal as Davina Tobin and Collette Dormer defended resolutely. Galway went down like champions but the night and the year, belongs to Kilkenny.
Aoife Norris, Michelle Teehan, Claire Phelan, Davina Tobin, Collette Dormer, Meighan Farrell, Grace Walsh (0-1), Anna Farrell, Kelly Ann Doyle, Miriam Walsh, Ann Dalton (0-1), Aoife Doyle (0-4), Mary O'Connell (0-1), Denise Gaule (1-6, 1-0 pen, 0-4f, 0-1 45), Katie Nolan (0-1)
Laura Murphy for Mary O'Connell (53) Niamh Deely for Kelly Ann Doyle (58)
Sarah Healy, Shauna Healy, Sarah Dervan, Heather Cooney, Emma Helebert, Siobhan Gardiner, Tara Kenny, Aoife Donohue (0-1), Niamh Kilkenny (0-1), Carrie Dolan (0-5 0-4f), Catriona Cormican, Siobhan McGrath (0-2), Ailish O’Reilly (0-1), Niamh Hanniffy, Orlaith McGrath (1-0)
Sarah Spellman for Emma Helebert (50), Rebecca Hennelly for Aoife Donohue (60)