Thursday 19 September 2019

Aisling Maher: 'Brilliant Galway on the rise but Dalton and Power play can get Kilkenny over line'


Midfield maestro: Niamh Kilkenny has formed a very effective partnership with Aoife Donoghue at centrefield, but the Galway pair will have to be at their very best to stop the supply lines into the Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Midfield maestro: Niamh Kilkenny has formed a very effective partnership with Aoife Donoghue at centrefield, but the Galway pair will have to be at their very best to stop the supply lines into the Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Aisling Maher

Kilkenny had to change something up this year after losing the last two All-Ireland senior camogie finals, which is one of the reasons why I think we're in for a very different kind of final tomorrow and not because they're facing a different opponent in Galway.

The Cats and Cork are obviously hugely skilful but, for neutral spectators, their last two finals weren't the type of matches you'd want to showcase camogie on the one day in the year when everyone sits down to watch it.

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They were more like chess matches at times, with very defensive tactics and players sitting back.

But Kilkenny now have the best attack in the country and Galway the best defence and I'm expecting a much more free-flowing game.

You could argue that Kilkenny's over-concentration on defence cost them two All-Irelands, but they were only beaten by a point both times. If that point had been the other side we'd be saying those tactics worked.

But they've definitely switched things up.

They've scored 16 goals and 102 points this summer and moving Anne Dalton out of the sweeper role was the key.

She's averaging 1-3 a game, but is complemented by so many others capable of scoring and you can see it doesn't matter to them who scores.

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Katie Power is involved in most scores, even if she's not the finisher. They're definitely more balanced and always seem to give the ball to the player in the better position.

That long-range shooting by the likes of Denise Gaule is really spectacular when it comes off but you're probably wasting opportunities that way, too.

Wing-backs like Grace Walsh are also pushing forward this year which shows massive confidence.

But Galway have always been very close to Kilkenny and Cork recently.

They haven't become a brilliant team overnight - they've consistently and gradually improved over the last few years.

They seem to have ironed out a few little chinks in their armour, like working harder and having more confidence and leadership this year.

In the league final they conceded two goals after half-time but noticeably didn't panic. They went straight up the pitch and got scores to win.

In previous years they'd have reacted by sitting back and going very defensive but now they have the confidence to push on.

Another year has really helped their free-taker Carrie Dolan, too. She scored 0-10 from frees in the quarter-finals but is still very young. The wind swirls in Croke Park, especially at the Hill end, so frees can be very tricky there and her performance will be vital.

Moving Aoife Donoghue to midfield has really worked - she was phenomenal in the league final - and I think Niamh Kilkenny is the best midfielder in the country, so they're a serious pairing.

Beating Kilkenny in the league final, in Croke Park, in front of a decent crowd and on a high-pressure day, was a huge win for this Galway team in terms of confidence and mental strength.

Cathal Murray did well tactically in their semi-final, pulling Ailish O'Reilly to centre-forward to curb Gemma O'Connor's influence.

So he could yet opt to use a seventh defender or transitional sweeper, given how strong those Kilkenny forwards are.

Galway only conceded four scoreable frees in the pair's last meeting but two were given away by Heather Cooney on Katie Power, so it'll be interesting to see if they keep her marking Power again.

Camogie's rules are so open to interpretation that the quality of finals is dependent on how the referee performs, but a Rules Review Committee has been established this year.

The referees, generally, look like they're trying to make the game more free-flowing and Ray Kelly has done that well this season so I'd hope he'd stick to the same style tomorrow.

Managing the intermediate team, with a handful of players doubling up, is going to test Cathal Murray.

The double's been done before but, depending on the result, the intermediates will arrive into the senior dressing-room either ecstatic or devastated and that could impact on those around them.

Galway are a brilliant team but I think they've got their work cut out for them with these Kilkenny forwards, their big-game experience in Croke Park and the hurt and heartbreak they've suffered the last two years.

Hopefully this will be high-scoring and a thriller!

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