Potential classic pits experience of Galway against goal-hungry Cats
Hunger won't be an issue for either team in today's camogie final, says Seán Ryan
A YEAR ago, the menfolk of Kilkenny and Galway held the country in thrall as they fought out a two-game saga in the All-Ireland hurling final. Today at Croke Park it is the turn of the women of the same two counties to do battle for the All-Ireland senior camogie title – and no one is ruling out the possibility of another replay (on October 6) to decide the issue.
In contrast to last year's hurling final, today Galway are the team with the experience. Seven of their team have amassed 25 appearances between them in Croke Park finals, and every one of their 15 have played in at least one final – but they have yet to win one.
Kilkenny, on the other hand, drawing on their four-in-a-row under 16s (2005-2008) and minors (2006-2009), have only played in one final – in 2009 – and that was probably too soon for their young squad, who succumbed rather easily to Cork.
If hunger is the ingredient that teams need to make the breakthrough, then both counties have it in abundance, as Kilkenny's last success (of 12) was back in 1994, while Galway's lone success came in '96.
If Kilkenny win, it will be the culmination of a dramatic turnaround in fortunes from 2012, when they won only one game in the championship, and were in the depths of despair. Admittedly, they had lost 17 of their 2011 squad, but it still represented a nadir for the Cats. The appointment of Westmeath man Niall Williams and Dubliner Graham Dillon – they had overseen DCU's success in the Ashbourne Cup – proved the catalyst for a change in their fortunes.
The return of former winning minors Edwina Keane, Leann Fennelly, Anne Dalton, Aisling Dunphy and Denise Gaule contributed to a good league campaign. They reached the semi-final, but lost to All-Ireland champions Wexford.
The defeat of Wexford in the Leinster final in New Ross by 4-5 to 1-10 set them up for an unbeaten championship campaign in which they scored a stunning 12 goals.
After the group stages, the open draw paired the two unbeaten teams – Kilkenny and Cork – in the semi-final, and the Cats showed their mettle in a great game of camogie. They gave away two goals in the first eight minutes, but they were in front by half-time and held on to clinch their place in the final.
Galway, meanwhile, are contesting their fourth final in six years, having been unsuccessful in 2008, 2010 and 2011, and they meet the team that beat them 1-10 to 1-8 in the first round back in June.
At the time, their selection seemed a little unbalanced, but the restoration of Therese Maher to centre-back has helped turn their fortunes around. They have won five games since, including beating Wexford twice, and have shown signs of improvement in every game.
Maher is the driving force of this team. She is playing in her eighth All-Ireland final, including two with Athenry, and she has yet to win a medal. With Sinéad Cahalan and Lorraine Ryan either side of her, they form a formidable half-back line that will test the slickness of the Kilkenny attack.
In attack, Galway can rely on Niamh McGrath's free-taking, and corner-forwards Brenda Hanney and Ailish O'Reilly for a good quota of scores. However, unlike Kilkenny, who have the ability to come back after conceding goals, Galway prefer to be out in front and need a good start if they are to be seen at their best. In the past, they have conceded sloppy goals and missed easy points that would have helped them settle. In that regard, their familiarity with the Croke Park setting should help on this occasion.
With hunger as motivation on both sides, this could be a classic, which could be decided by one interesting statistic: Kilkenny have scored 12 goals in the championship, while Galway have only conceded two. Something's got to give, and whether it is Galway's defence or the Cats' attack, it will probably determine the destination of the O'Duffy Cup for the next 12 months.
Galway: S Earner; T Manton, S Dervan, H Cooney; S Cahalan, T Maher, L Ryan; N Kilkenny, M Dunne; E Haverty, N McGrath, E Kilkelly; B Hanney, AM Hayes, A O'Reilly.
Kilkenny: E Kavanagh; M Power, K McDonald, J Frisby; L Fennelly, E Keane, E Aylward; C Phelan, A Dalton; G Walsh, A Dunphy, K Power; S Farrell, D Gaule, A Neary.
Galway v Kilkenny,
RTE 2, 4.0
Talent runs in family
DAUGHTERS of All-Ireland hurling winners will be on show today. Galway sisters Niamh, Clodagh and Orla McGrath are daughters of Michael 'Hopper' McGrath, who was a star forward on the teams of '87 and '88, while Leann Fennelly is a daughter of Kilkenny's All-Ireland-winning captain of '83 and '92, Liam.
Kilkenny also feature Grace Walsh, younger sister of current All-Star Tommy, and Mairéad Power, who is a cousin of Richie Power.