By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Galway 0-16 Kilkenny 2-8
THE celebrations were measured but this was an important day for Galway.
It wasn’t just that they had beaten one of the giants of their sport, a four-in-a-row chasing Kilkenny in the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League Division 1 Final. It was that they did so after staring down the barrel of a defeat that would have been very hard to digest given their dominance, and refused to let it happen.
Aoife Donohue, Niamh Kilkenny and the colossal Shauna Healy excelled as the free-flowing westerners led at half time by 0-10 to 0-4 and after landing the first two scores of the second half, they seemed on their way.
That would have been very welcome in itself, having not claimed a national title since prevailing in the League decider four years ago, but it might not have answered all the questions.
It was Kilkenny in the opposing corner however and if they weren’t firing on all cylinders, they are laden with talent and plenty of big characters.
Goals from Michelle Quilty and Anne Dalton got the Noresiders to within a point by the 47th minute and the wise owls nodded knowingly. Kilkenny nous would prevail over the nearly side again.
The owls were wrong. The workrate that buttressed all that was good about Galway yielded vital dividends once more.
Carrie Dolan and Ailish O’Reilly were awarded frees and Dolan slotted both, the Clarinbridge sharpshooter who only turns 20 in April bringing her tally to the day to eight points, having missed a couple of earlier frees.
It was a testament to a side that was confident, that had nerve; that could win on a big day in Croke Park.
“We’re delighted. We knew coming up today it was going to be a really tough challenge” said manager Cathal Murray. “I think we played really well in the first half and six points at half time probably didn’t reflect how well we played.
“They were always going to get their purple patch. We spoke about it at half time in the dressing room and the reaction to that was very good. We were delighted with it. We kicked on which was great.
“Last year, in the two Championship matches, they scored a goal against us and our reaction wasn’t as good. Today we reacted well to it.
“This Galway team needed to come up today and show they were able to play a Cork or a Kilkenny and beat them in a Final.”
Tara Kenny was part of a defensive unit that held the upper hand on the Kilkenny attack for most of proceedings. Without getting carried away, the Sarsfields half-back knew the value of this triumph.
“At the end of the day, we know it’s the League and we have Kilkenny in (the first round of) the Championship and that’s different gravy but we haven’t beaten Kilkenny in the last few years so mentally that’s going to be good for us” said Kenny.
“I think we’re mentally stronger this year. People have looked at us sometimes nearly like we’re spoofers or bluffers but we’ve worked hard this year and we’ll keep the head down now.”
Apart from wondering about the free count, which she was refraining from attributing blame to either players or referee Cathal Egan until watching the video, Kilkenny manager Ann Downey was emphatic in acknowledging that Galway deserved to prevail.
“We were disappointed with the first half. There were too many frees given against us and it’s something I’d have to sit down and see why” Downey stated. “I think it was nine frees in a row at one stage against us and I thought it was a little harsh on us but it wasn’t the losing and winning of the game either.
“We just weren’t hungry enough. Simple as that. Galway were. They wanted it more. They harried. They were out in front and often passed one of our girls to win it. You have to have it in your heart, you have to have that hunger and you have to have that drive and we just didn’t have it today.
“Having said that, we haven’t really been doing a lot of hurling. We’ve been in the gym. We’ve had our League games but it’s been impossible to get a pitch to play a little bit of hurling. But we’ve used a lot of young girls and we’ve gotten a lot from the League.
“Galway are a good team. Today, they put some great moves together and we just weren’t able to match them.”
SCORERS FOR GALWAY: C Dolan 0-8(7fs, 1 45); A Donohue 0-3; N Kilkenny, N Hanniffy 0-2 each; A O’Reilly 0-1
SCORERS FOR KILKENNY: M Quilty 1-1(0-1f); D Morrissey 0-3(2fs); A Dalton 1-0; K Power 0-2; D Gaule (f), C Phelan (45) 0-1 each
GALWAY: Sarah Healy, Shauna Healy, S Dervan, H Cooney, T Kenny, E Helebert, L Ryan, AM Starr, A Donohue, N Kilkenny, A O’Reilly, N McGrath, C Dolan, N Hanniffy, N Coen. Subs: S Spellman for McGrath (43), M Cooney for Coen (52), D Higgins for Ryan (60+2); Ryan for Dolan (60+3)
KILKENNY: E Kavanagh, M Teehan, C Foley, C Dormer, , D Tobin, C Phelan, K Doyle, A Farrell, N Deeley, K Power, A Dalton, M Walsh, D Morrissey, M Quilty, D Gaule. Subs: A Doyle for Walsh (ht), S Fitzgerald for A Farrell (42), M Farrell for Teehan (53), M Kinneally for Tobin (60+4)