Camogie: Maher is finally a Croker bride
Sixth time lucky for legend as Galway land a dream double
AT THE final whistle, Therese Maher simply fell to her knees, threw off her red helmet and touched her head to the soil of hurling's Mecca before her team-mates enveloped her in a mound of jubilant maroon.
All Ireland Senior Camogie Final: Galway 1-9 Kilkenny 0-7
After losing five All-Ireland finals in her 17-year senior career, one of the finest players of her generation finally got her dues on a marvellous day for Galway camogie.
Not only did the game's perennial bridesmaids finally make it up the aisle in yesterday's senior final in Croke Park, but they also pulled off a senior/intermediate double that only Wexford and Cork had achieved in the past.
The same management team, led by Tony Ward, was in charge of both and Orlaith McGrath (one of Hopper's three daughters in action) played in both games.
But, above all, this was Maher's moment, and her team-mates and Ward queued up to pay tribute to their elegant and modest centre-back's brilliance and endurance.
Starring in her fourth final in six years and her sixth since 1997, the Athenry star finally got her hands on the O'Duffy Cup – and no one deserved it more.
"I had a lot of emotions when the whistle finally went," she revealed.
"Relieved, ecstatic, delighted and just thrilled to finally get over the line and get that elusive medal that I've been trying so hard to get. Today makes up for all those defeats.
"I know it wasn't a classic out there today, but I didn't mind if it was two points to one or five points to two.
"We wanted to win and we needed to win for Galway camogie and to get the double, we're just thrilled."
As one generation of team-mates left and was replaced by others, Maher, the only one who wears a wedding band, stayed loyal and true, but there were times, she admitted, where she wavered.
"But when you enjoy it and it's something that you've played for most of your life, you love it and I'm so glad I went back now," she added.
It was rumoured that yesterday would be her last game, no matter what the result, so would she change her mind?
"I don't think anyone makes decisions after matches when you win," she said. "I've always said 'never say never' but, if I was to finish, you couldn't finish a better way. We'll see."
Double-winning manager Ward described it "my best sporting day" but pointed out the potential for disaster if Galway had lost both finals.
"It's great because we have been the bridesmaids so often," the Sarsfields man said.
"It probably wasn't a great game to watch, with defences on top, but we have come here in brilliant games and lost them."
Winning the intermediate was a boost to the seniors, he said, even if he and his selectors had a hectic schedule.
"We tore around the corner, composed ourselves, went into the dressing-room and took it as another game, as if nothing was happening," he explained. "It (intermediate victory) definitely gave them (seniors) a lift, all they needed was the wink in the dressing-room."
In a scrappy game disrupted by a big cross-wind and far too many rucks and throw-ins, the sides swapped the lead several times and were level on 0-3 apiece after 24 minutes, by which time Ailish O'Reilly (Galway) and Shelly Farrell (Kilkenny) had both missed good goal chances, the latter's handpass going just over the bar.
But then came the break Galway needed when O'Reilly (19) shook off two markers and, despite losing her hurl, managed to palm in a 27th-minute goal.
Galway's astute early introduction of Noreen Coen also proved pivotal as she quickly tagged on two good points to give them a four-point half-time lead (1-5 to 0-4) which Emma Kilkelly soon extended to five.
But Ann Dalton and two frees from Kilkenny captain Michelle Quilty got the deficit back to three, and the game was delicately balanced after Niamh McGrath had a vital free come back off the upright.
If Kilkenny had taken their opportunities, then the pendulum might have swung but some of their six second-half wides immediately followed and their chance slipped away.
A host of Kilkenny forwards were held scoreless. Three of them were replaced and when they moved Ann Dalton up to centre-forward, even she couldn't get past Maher.
The Noresiders' attack never once sparked but that was down to Galway's brilliantly tigerish defence, where they hadn't one weak link and Maher, Sarah Dervan and captain Lorraine Ryan were particularly outstanding.
Their defence provided several contenders for player of the match but corner-forward O'Reilly (19), who was still a minor last year, just edged it for the havoc she created every time she got the ball and yielded many of the frees that top scorer McGrath rattled over.
On a breakthrough day for Galway camogie, their manager summarised it best.
"Some people say it's unbelievable but it is believable for these girls because they have suffered the heartache over the last few years and today, finally, is their day."
SCORERS – Galway: N McGrath 0-5 (4fs), A O'Reilly 1-0, N Coen 0-2, E Haverty, E Kilkelly 0-1 each. Kilkenny: S Farrell, A Dalton (1f), M Quilty (2fs) 0-2 each, A Dunphy 0-1.
GALWAY – S Earner 7; T Manton 8, S Dervan 9, H Cooney 8; S Cahalan 8, T Maher 9, L Ryan (capt) 9; N Kilkenny 7, M Dunne 5; E Haverty 6, N McGrath 8, E Kilkelly 7; B Hanney 6, A O'Reilly 9, AM Hayes 6. Subs: N Coen 8 for Dunne (23), O McGrath for Hanney (61), AM Starr for Haverty (62).
Kilkenny – E Kavanagh 6; M Power 6, K McDonald 6, J Frisby 6; L Fennelly 7, E Keane 6, E Alyward 7; C Phelan 5, A Dalton 6; G Walsh 6, A Dunphy 7, K Power 7; S Farrell 6, D Gaule 5, A Neary 5. Subs: C Dormer 6 for Phelan (21), K Hamilton 5 for Walsh (40), M Quilty 6 for Neary (47), M Walsh 6 for Gaule (55).
REF – G O'Dowd (Limerick).