by Daragh Ó Conchúir at Croke Park
Two-goal hero Ailish O’Reilly revealed a fierce determination to prove the detractors wrong provided incalculable fuel as Galway illustrated once again their resolution to overcome whatever was thrown at them this year to become Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie champions for the third time and first since 2013.
On numerous occasions in both their National League-winning campaign and the Championship, they have had to deal with setbacks and whereas in the past they might have struggled to do so, were unyielding this time year.
The worst of all was the cruciate knee ligament injury suffered by brilliant defender Tara Kenny on Thursday night which forced a reshuffle but replacement Catherine Finnerty excelled and Caitriona Cormican was magnificent at centre-back on Kilkenny dangerwoman Anne Dalton.
O’Reilly goaled in the second minute after a typical, gliding run from player of the match Niamh Kilkenny and though Kilkenny steadied the ship with Michelle Quilty hitting seven or her eight points, further goals in the 26th and 28th minutes from Niamh Hanniffy and O’Reilly gave Cathal Murray’s crew a commanding 3-7 to 0-10 interval advantage.
A Carrie Dolan free made it a seven-point lead early in the second half but by the 50th minute, the Cats were within two.
Aoife Doyle, Miriam Walsh, Anna Farrell, Dalton and Gaule all slotted points and the game was set for a barnstorming finish.
But it was Galway that finished stronger, showing a fitness of body as well as mind with four points including two from the sensational Kilkenny and a whopper from a midfield free by goalkeeper Sarah Healy – a hero of both the Quarter-Final and Semi-Final victories over Waterford and Cork – to seal the deal in front of a record attendance of 24,730.
“There was a lot of talk about the Kilkenny forwards and I think every time we ran at them we looked dangerous” said O’Reilly.
“The pressure was on them and we went out and put everything out there for 60 minutes and I’ll appreciate this one for sure.
“2013 feels like a lifetime ago. I was vomiting all that morning and I flew off on Erasmus a few days later so I didn’t appreciate it enough. By God am I going to enjoy this one.
“We beat them in the League Final and all the talk was they beat us in the first round of the Championship. What was the point of giving anything away then? We were definitely going to have to play them again and we were definitely going to have to play Cork.
“The strategy was to play it down on the middle, thankfully we got on the breaking ball and it paid off.
“Whatever Cathal has done this year with our team, there’s a mentality and a belief there that whatever is thrown at us, we were going to come fighting back even two times harder. We did it for Tara.
“Teeny (Cormican) went back and you would barely even know that Anne Dalton was in the game. Teeny did well, we’d Shauna (Healy), we’d Heather (Cooney) and I don’t think our backs have gotten enough credit all year. Again, a lot of talk was about Kilkenny and that suited us down to the ground. We showed what we’re capable of. We beat Cork and we beat Kilkenny so I think we deserve this one.
“We were written off against Waterford. We didn’t play for the first 20 minutes but we weren’t allowed play and I don’t think Waterford have been given enough credit.
“We beat Cork by a point and again all the talk was about Kilkenny and that suited us down to the ground. And I think we’ve proved a lot of people wrong today.
“We said ‘workrate, workrate, workrate’ no matter who we were playing and I believe 100 per cent that got us over the line.”
Kilkenny manager Ann Downey was magnanimous in defeat, praising Galway for their hunger but backing her troops to come back from a third devastating Final defeat on the trot.
“The three goals really killed us and they all came from their puckouts that were landing on our centre-back and they won the breaking ball and from that their centre-field was doing the overlap. We just didn’t contain it. In fairness Galway hunted in packs today and we didn’t.
At half-time we knew there was more in them. We made some positional changes, moved Claire Phelan back to full-back and moved Meighan (Farrell) back and that helped the situation. We got within two points of them but never closer. They were never going to leave us in for a goal, it was impossible, they swarmed us and they were hungrier than us.
“I’ve no idea why. Maybe it was that they haven’t been here for so long and we were here the last few years and maybe our players were so afraid of losing, they weren’t able to express themselves. I know they’ll be disappointed with their performances.
“Some of our younger girls played with freedom but maybe the end of the line is nearer for some of our older players from last year and that holds you back but I couldn’t ask any more of any of them, they’re trained so hard and given such commitment.
“It’s all about the day and didn’t perform on the day… we were used to running all year and obviously Galway had done their homework and stopped that overlap.
“In the first half our half-forwards should have pushed up more and helped our centre-field more with the overlap but it all goes down to the will to win and the hunger and they had it in spades today.
“They’ve been here so many times and come back and come back but it’ll be a long winter and we’ll reassess after it, sit down and see what everyone wants to do. They’ll go back to their clubs and we’ll be there for them and support them to try and get over today.”
SCORERS FOR GALWAY: C Dolan 0-6(4fs, 2 45s); A O’Reilly 2-0; N Kilkenny 0-4; N Hanniffy 1-0; N Coen, S Spellman, C Finnerty, Sarah Healy (f) 0-1 each
SCORERS FOR KILKENNY: M Quilty 0-8(7fs); M Walsh, D Gaule(1f), A Dalton (1f) 0-2 each; D Tobin, A Farrell, A Doyle 0-1 each
GALWAY: Sarah Healy, Shauna Healy, S Dervan, H Cooney, L Ryan, C Cormican, E Helebert, A Donohue, N Kilkenny, S Spellman, N Coen, C Finnerty, N Hanniffy, A O’Reillysubs: a M Starr for Coen (42)
KILKENNY: E Kavanagh, C Dormer, C Foley, E Keane, K Doyle, C Phelan, G Walsh, M Farrell, D Tobin, A Farrell, K Power, A Dalton, M Quilty, M Walsh, D Gaule. Subs: A Doyle for Keane (29), D Morrissey for A Doyle (56)
REFEREE: Ray Kelly (Kildare)