Finn says Galway ready for Rebelettes test
When Galway take to the field tomorrow afternoon at Nowlan Park for their semi-final, memories of last year's outing will undoubtedly lurk in their collective minds.
The Tribeswomen were one minute away from an All-Ireland final appearance before opponents Kilkenny dashed their hopes. A last-minute raid by the Cats yielded a winning goal and a heartbreaking defeat for the Westerners. Kilkenny went on to contest the final against Cork, which the Munster side won convincingly.
This year, Galway manager Noel Finn, who took over from Liam O'Donoghue, finds his side facing the charge of the treble-chasing Rebelettes.
"It will be a tough battle. Cork, while struggling slightly in the qualifiers, are an entirely different proposition when it comes to the knock-out stages. They will be ready for this match and our girls will need to be ready for them. While we defeated them in the round-robin fixture, this time it will be entirely different. There is an All-Ireland final place at stake," said Finn.
Finn's tenure at the helm has seen Galway improve with each game; recording a solid league campaign before eventually losing out to Kilkenny, while in the round-robin stages of this year's championship they had crucial wins against tomorrow's opponents Cork and Wexford.
"This year we have introduced a number of last year's winning intermediate team, as well as a number of young players, which has brought the panel on. While it may sound cliched, it is a genuine team effort and each person has stepped up in all games, while we have given them all plenty of opportunities."
If Galway are to progress they will need to detail the dynamic Gemma O'Connor, a six-time All Star. The clash of Galway centre-back Ann Marie Hayes and O'Connor will be one of many key battles. Finn will also be hoping that Orla Kilkenny and Emma Kilkelly can pull the strings at midfield. Up front, Therese Maher, Caroline Murray and Brenda Hanney, as well as Ashlinn Connolly, should cause the Cork rearguard plenty of problems.
Cork manager Denise Cronin has plotted this year's campaign without the talents of Briege Corkery and a number of last year's stars, including Una O'Donoghue. Stuttering displays in the round-robin stages left Cork needing a crucial win over Wexford to secure safe passage to the last four.
Cronin has, however, the luxury of an experienced panel. Forwards Sile Burns, Rachel Moloney and Julia White contribute to a potent forward line, while in defence Mary O'Connor, Caitriona Foley and wing-back Anna Geary command operations.
In the second decider, also at Nowlan Park, Wexford face Kilkenny in a repeat of this year's National Camogie League final, which the Model County won by a point.
Ann Downey's Kilkenny girls face a massive task and, as one of the youngest teams in the championship, tomorrow's semi-final will be a test of their collective maturity.
"Losing last year's final was a massive blow to us and we have not looked beyond this weekend's fixture. The girls have stepped up to the plate in the last year and this Saturday is a huge test for us. We lost to them in the league final and round-robin stages so we are up against it," said Downey.
Wexford manager JJ Doyle paid little heed to their two previous encounters, citing the experience of Kilkenny on the big stage and the lure of an All-Ireland final. "It matters little that we beat them in the National League or in the robin-round fixture," said Doyle.
"Our side are anxious to return to Croke Park, having last played there in 2007, and we will need to put in an exceptional display to get there."