Ursula Jacob: 'Kilkenny and Galway are a novel pairing and that brings its own excitement and intrigue'
For the fourth year running, Ann Downey and her Kilkenny team make the trip to Croke Park in search of All-Ireland glory. After the joys of the 2016 success, the last two years have been a bitter pill for Downey and Co to swallow. They won’t want to feel that pain again on Sunday.
For the last three years, Kilkenny and Cork have dominated this competition and, if truth be told, most camogie followers were expecting this year’s final to be the latest instalment in the saga between the two rivals, and to see Kilkenny and Cork battling it out for the game’s most coveted prize.
Galway had other ideas though. They were full value for their win over Cork in the semi-final as they have been building consistently throughout the season.
Beating Kilkenny to win the league back in March was very significant for Cathal Murray’s side and they went on from there with a steady run in the championship, the loss to Kilkenny early on in the campaign was their only one.
So we have a novel pairing — their only previous meeting was in 2013 — that brings its own excitement and intrigue and I feel it will bring a different style of game to the one we have seen in the last few finals.
It will be a bit more of a free- flowing game than it would have been if it was another Kilkenny-Cork clash. There are going to be lots of tactical battles and the two managers will have been working hard all week to ensure they get the key match-ups right.
Kilkenny are playing in a more attacking style than usual, that’s been aided by the presence of Anne Dalton in the forwards as her positioning has given more prominence to the other Kilkenny attackers. Dalton has the ability to bring those around her into play, she has great vision and awareness and in the wide open spaces of Croke Park that can be lethal.
The likes of Michelle Quilty is probably having one of her best years in the Kilkenny jersey and Miriam Walsh, who has been in and out of the team in the last number of years, is consistently starting and performing really well.
The westerners are an exciting team to watch, they are all well able to hurl and they aren’t afraid to shoot from distance. Some of the score-taking in the semi-final was brilliant from both finalists and that will lead to a really absorbing final.
Galway have a balanced team, in defence you have some of the most experienced players like Lorraine Ryan, Heather Cooney and Sarah Dervan. Aoife Donohue’s presence around the middle third, in particular, has been so influential and she leads a lot of the Galway attacks. In the semi-final, Niamh Kilkenny had one of her most effective performances in a Galway jersey.
Kilkenny are in their sixth final in seven years, so they can draw on a vast amount of experience. Galway were last in a final in 2015 when they lost to Cork and so are very much the more inexperienced outfit. But the Croke Park factor isn’t as big as it was in the past, as both teams got to play in front of a large crowd in the league final and I think this will benefit both panels. Galway won’t be fazed, they will have a big following as their intermediates are aiming for glory too. Indeed, when Galway last won in 2013, their intermediates were also victorious.
It’s going to be a really intriguing battle, Kilkenny pose a more potent attacking threat — they have got 16 goals in five games, albeit seven of them were against Wexford. However, with some of the goals they have scored this year you can see an encouraging spread of scorers and there certainly isn’t an over-reliance on any one forward right across the board.
From Galway’s point of view, they don’t have as many players capable of scoring from play. Ailish O’Reilly is a vital attacker for Galway while Niamh Kilkenny will be covering the middle third. We know how tight Kilkenny’s defence is, in the league final they were missing some key defenders in Grace Walsh and Edwina Keane as well as Meighan Farrell around midfield; she is like a shield for her side’s defence, the ground she covers is phenomenal. The duel between her and Aoife Donohue will be fascinating. They will probably pick up each other, they both like to move up and down the field, setting up scores, as well as getting on the scoresheet themselves.
In this year’s league final, Donohue was given acres of space and it’ll be up to Farrell to curb that threat.
It will be a close game. I feel there is a difference in Kilkenny this year, and that their conditioning and fitness levels have risen.
The small tweaks manager Ann Downey has made will make a huge difference. A major motivating factor is the hurt from the last two years. Losing the league final this year was probably a blessing in disguise as it showed them that there were a few things they needed to work on. They haven’t looked back since.
Cork hadn’t been beaten since the 2016 All-Ireland final until Galway dethroned them. And Galway also have that win over Kilkenny, too. That will surely give them a big psychological boost. They will be quietly confident but in my opinion, Kilkenny’s spread of scorers, their goal-scoring threat and the hurt of the last two years are huge motivating factors. Kilkenny will be too hard to stop — they should edge it.