Thursday 19 September 2019

Giving Dalton freedom to roam forward could finally see Kilkenny over the line

 

Manager Ann Downey doesn’t take offence when you suggest that the Dalton switch has unlocked her side’s attacking flair (stock photo)
Manager Ann Downey doesn’t take offence when you suggest that the Dalton switch has unlocked her side’s attacking flair (stock photo)

Cliona Foley

It didn't quite escalate into a full-on public 'Release Anne Dalton' campaign but, in recent seasons, it felt like some Kilkenny camogie fans might actually make some placards and stage an intervention.

As she showed with some wondrous flicks in the Gaelic Grounds last day out, the St Lachtain's ace is a gifted play-maker, with the sort of touch and vision that can make crowds gasp aloud.

She was still the nation's Player of the Year last season but, to see the Cats persist with her as a centre-back-cum-sweeper didn't sit quite right with fans, especially when the last two All-Ireland finals were ultra-defensive and they lost, both times, to Cork by a mere point.

This year Dalton has been unchained, released ostensibly to the half-forward line with room to roam and cause havoc from midfield onward.

Kilkenny's summer tally of 16 goals and more than 100 points is no coincidence. She has racked up 6-11 and her passing and vision has had a hand in a lot more flags.

Manager Ann Downey doesn't take offence when you suggest that the Dalton switch has unlocked her side's attacking flair.

"She had me badgered," she chuckles, while also giving credit to her new back-room team of Brian Dowling, Liam Egan and Ray Challoner.

She first spotted Dowling's coaching talents with O'Loughlin Gaels' minor hurlers two years ago, immediately taken by his young team's "delivery of the ball and the movement of their forwards".

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There's also consensus their new-look management has re-energised everyone, not just tactically.

"Myself and Paddy (Mullally, former coach) would have had a few arguments over it (Dalton's placement)," Downey says.

"But, like Brian, if you give someone a job to coach you have to trust them and, in fairness we weren't that far off the last two years.

"But maybe there is a freshness now there and I trust Brian to do what he thinks is the right thing," she adds.

"Anne hasn't let us down but the whole unit (attack), including midfield, they really don't care who gets the score. If they're not in the best position they're going to throw the ball to someone else. You saw in the Tipp game, when Katie Power could have had her own score, she shoved it across to (Michelle) Quilty.

"His (Dowling's) mantra is 'don't think you're going to go out here and not make a mistake'. The best hurler, footballer or camogie player is going to make mistakes but you recover from it, that's what has been important," Downey says. "They're allowed to hurl with that freedom."

Evident

That freedom is clearly evident again in Kilkenny this season, but Galway have plenty of it too and are now capable of resisting it.

Since folding surprisingly after Katie Power's goal in last year's semi-final, they've come back much stronger, physically and mentally.

They foiled Kilkenny's bid for the four in-a-row in the league final, conceded only 2-8 to them that day, and have scored 10-96 themselves this summer, even if a little more dependent on free-taker Carrie Dolan.

When the sides met in a championship group opener Kilkenny reversed that result (1-13 to 0-14), another tight one only swung by a Galway goalkeeping error.

Dalton was quiet enough in the league final yet still set up one goal and scored another, and the absence of Meighan Farrell that day curbed her own scoring threat.

Kilkenny have had the country's richest attack (averaging 25 points per game), Galway the best defence (yielding on average of 11 points per game), so it stands at one apiece.

After two goal-less, arm-wrestling finals it feels like this one will be different and Dalton, back in her natural habitat, should be right in the thick of it.

Irish Independent

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