Friday 24 January 2020

Galway sharpshooter O'Reilly prepares to take aim at Kilkenny

Tribe on the up since changing manager and win over Cats would be next step on journey back to the summit

Galway’s Ailish O’Reilly (left) in action for Galway and Aisling Carolan of Leinster during the Camogie Senior Interprovincial Final in May. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Galway’s Ailish O’Reilly (left) in action for Galway and Aisling Carolan of Leinster during the Camogie Senior Interprovincial Final in May. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Daragh Ó Conchúir

It was unusual but the members of Galway's camogie panel were not willing to wait until the year was over to lobby for a new manager.

So they made their views known, Tony O'Donovan departed the scene after the National League and Cathal Murray took on the mantle.

They have yet to lose a game in the meantime, following up success in the Interprovincial Championships with a blemish-free run in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship to date.

It cannot have been an easy step to take, particularly when they were already averaging a manager a year since 2015.

Five in four brings its own pressure but Ailish O'Reilly is hailing the "great professionalism" of the current set-up and insists that the players are paying no heed to any external noise.

"I suppose you don't see it every year really," says O'Reilly about mid-term change. "It was a massive decision but it was one that had to be taken at the time. All we could have done from there was drive on. We're in a good place.

"The pressure was going to be on us as players once we made the decision but no pressure is more serious than what we put on ourselves to perform. All that happens within our four white lines is what matters and what anybody else thinks is irrelevant anyway."

Now 24 and just qualified as a primary school teacher, O'Reilly has been a model of consistency despite all the upheaval. She won her third All-Star last November, her direct running and goal scoring always creating an impact.

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The Oranmore Maree sharpshooter scored a vital goal in the 2013 All-Ireland final, finishing her debut year in style.

It is hard to shake the feeling that Galway have underachieved since then, however.

"A hundred per cent," she agrees. "Talking to people from other counties, they talk about our potential, so many underage titles. The talent is there.

"We lost last year (in the semi-final) by a couple of points, the year before in extra-time.

"I think we just need that one big win to get the belief back again. Hopefully this year we'll bring it one step further.

"The likes of Niamh Kilkenny, Lorraine Ryan and Sarah Dervan, you'd love to give them another one."

She describes her desire to run at her marker with a view to raising a green flag as "force of habit" but it is noticeable that she has just one goal registered from three games to date.

She would expect a little more perhaps but camogie is changing tactically.

Cork and Kilkenny are the two most successful teams in the country and they both deploy sweepers and supplementary defenders when they don't have possession. That can be suffocating for an inside forward.

Galway have struggled at times to cope. The latest test will come tomorrow against Kilkenny at Nowlan Park (2.30pm).

Both have already qualified for the knockout stages but the winner will top the group and earn a direct route to the semi-finals.

It is a path O'Reilly feels Galway need to take to build momentum and boost belief. To do so, they will have to take on their opponents' defensive shackles. Will they be prepared for it now?

"We should be. Hopefully we can get it right this time. The main thing against Kilkenny is we need to get the good start.

"The last year or two, they got a goal or two so quickly that we're trying to claw it back too much. So we need to reverse the roles a bit.

"Sometimes you can feel trapped, surrounded by eight defenders.

"You have to be patient. It can be very hard at times when you feel like you haven't touched a ball for 20 minutes and you're wondering if the ball is going to come in at all.

"It's totally mental, be ready for that one ball that comes in, to get your score."

If it comes to O'Reilly, the chances are, she will.

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