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'I was lucky it was right in front of the post' - Denise Gaule reflects on All-Ireland winning free for Kilkenny

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Denise Gaule of Kilkenny celebrates converting her late free which proved to be the winning score in Sunday’s All-Ireland camogie final Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Denise Gaule of Kilkenny celebrates converting her late free which proved to be the winning score in Sunday’s All-Ireland camogie final Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Denise Gaule of Kilkenny celebrates converting her late free which proved to be the winning score in Sunday’s All-Ireland camogie final Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Denise Gaule says she never doubted herself as she stood over what proved to be the match-winning free in Sunday’s All-Ireland senior camogie final.

Katie Nolan had taken over the deadball duties after Gaule’s radar proved off in the semi-final against Galway and when the veteran missed her first on Sunday, Nolan was given the responsibility immediately.

Nolan slotted a couple but after one attempt slid wide, Gaule took over again. She was astray with one chance but when it was all on the line in injury-time, there was no doubt. The sliotar never moved from the black spot once it was sent on its way from 46 metres out.

It was a finish of immense bravery from the Cats’ enduring star given how the placed balls had been going. The 31-year-old had done this thousands of times before, in training on her own with a bag of sliotars and games. Just one more needed. So any doubts?

“No.”

What was in your head?

“Just please go over really,” said Gaule with a grin. “Please go over! In fairness, the last two matches haven’t gone well but it’s just to grind it out. I’m not afraid to step away from them and let Katie take them. There’s plenty other players there, Mary O’Connell, anyone could have stepped up.

“The last one? I dunno – I was lucky, it was right in front of the post to be honest with you. Just about.”

This is a second All-Ireland now in three seasons for Kilkenny. Many thought they were in transition in 2020, when four or five new players came in. Remarkably, seven of that team weren’t involved this year and so the same was being said all year.

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Kilkenny's Sophie Dwyer celebrates scoring her late goal in Sunday's All-Ireland senior camogie final. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Kilkenny's Sophie Dwyer celebrates scoring her late goal in Sunday's All-Ireland senior camogie final. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Kilkenny's Sophie Dwyer celebrates scoring her late goal in Sunday's All-Ireland senior camogie final. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

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It speaks volumes of the job Brian Dowling and his team have done but also of the quality of the newcomers and the spirit which became strong as they dealt with the tragic death of Dowling’s uncle in a house fire just a few weeks after coach Tommy Shefflin’s brother Paul died suddenly at the age of 40.

Players lost grandparents too and then the Doyle sisters, Kellyann and Aoife both suffered cruciate ligament injuries, Kellyann being struck down for the third time.

“Honestly, some of these girls are our best friends. We’d do anything for each other out on the pitch, off the pitch, the management team – everyone is just a unit,” said the Windgap stalwart.

“Look, everyone goes through hard times and at the end of the day it’s just a match but it means everything for them 60 minutes and we’re just delighted to be able to come out the right side of it and celebrate with family and friends who weren’t able to be there in 2020. It’ll mean a hell of a lot to them. It’s a proud day for Kilkenny.”

Gaule has formed a good partnership with Nolan. And Gaule had huge praise for Kilkenny’s own version of the Duracell Bunny, who was named official player of the match after a five-point contribution (three from play).

“She was unbelievable,” said Gaule of her team-mate’s energy. “She’s phenomenal since she came in. She’s a ray of sunshine in training and she’d never let you have your head down for a minute. She’s just absolutely a little buzzer going around the place and she showed that.”

Dowling revealed afterwards that Sophie Dwyer had put everything in the senior basket by pulling out of the intermediate squad at the start of the year. She wasn’t getting much game-time until everything clicked in a training match. The James Stephens attacker capitalised, scoring a point off the bench in the quarter-final and semi-final before carving her name into folklore with that late goal.

Gaule gave a bit more detail on the hour that changed the trajectory of Dwyer’s – and Kilkenny’s – season.

“She had some match in training in Ballyhale one day. I swear, I’d say she must have scored about 3-6. She went on every back and no one could handle her. Since then she’s come on in every match and made an impact. And it’s brilliant for all the younger girls. They don’t have as much memories of hurt as what we do and you’ll see them push on now for the next few years.”

Gaule couldn’t help but think of absent friends and she hinted at a passing on of the torch. “It’s about the team. There’s no one here for themselves. It’s a team game and individual awards are nice and all that, but at the end of the day what’s the point in having them when you don’t have an All-Ireland medal in the back pocket.

“To be able to share this with friends and my mother just there, I don’t know how she got onto the pitch! In the moment, you think it’s the best one ever,” she reflected. “To be fair, I missed a few of the girls here beside me, the likes of Meg (Farrell, who took a year out to go travelling), (Collette) Dormer and Davina (Tobin, who both retired at the end of last season) but it’s their team now really, the younger girls. We’re just happy to be able to contribute in some way, shape or form in the future.”


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