It might not have been a final for the ages but that mattered not one bit to Galway, who ended years of heartbreak to finally get their hands on the O’Duffy Cup after a real struggle against Kilkenny in a Liberty Insurance All-Ireland senior camogie final that ended 1-9 to 0-7 in their favour at Croke Park writes Daragh Ó Conchúir.
It was an unforgettable occasion too for Therese Maher, who may well have been playing her last ever game for her county, having joined the panel just a matter of months after Galway won their first and only championship at this level in 1996.
The Athenry legend has endured all the devastations inflicted upon the Tribeswomen in the intervening period, losing five All-Ireland finals, including three of the preceding five.
At the final whistle, after providing another inspirational display, the centre-back sank to her knees and before long, she was mobbed by team-mates.
It completed a double for Galway, who had earlier won the intermediate final, and for manager Tony Ward, who oversaw both sides.
Ward is certainly the man with the Midas touch, as he was in charge when the westerners made the breakthrough 17 years ago. For good measure, it was the Sarsfields man that introduced the then 15-year-old Maher to the panel at the beginning of 1997.
He also had Dublin hurler Niall Corcoran – a Galway native – helping him out and with former Galway hurling captain Liam Hodgins doing the training, the result was a perfect alchemy that brought them to the Promised Land.
“Back in ’96 I was young” smiled Ward. “We’ll know how to celebrate this a bit better. This is one that has been hard-earned. There’ve been a lot of defeats and this is our time.
“It probably wasn’t a pretty game. Both defences were on top. Thankfully we got a few scores extra. The Kilkenny defence was brilliant. Our defence was outstanding, especially there in the last 10 or 15 minutes when Kilkenny threw everything they had at us. It wasn’t to be for them and thanks be to God it’s our day.”
As for Maher?
“She was described during the week as the Queen of the West. This is her sixth All-Ireland to play and thanks be to God she has her medal tonight.”
The game certainly didn’t match the free-flowing attacking nature of last year’s classic but had all the skills of defensive play on view.
Both the rear units held sway throughout but critically, it was Galway that got the goal from Ailish O’Reilly in the 27th minute that swung affairs in their direction.
Kilkenny did most of the early pressing, and it took a number of last-ditch interventions by Susan Earner – after just 30 seconds –Maher and Sarah Dervan to deny the pacey Cats attack.
Elaine Aylward fouled O’Reilly at the other end to deny a goal opportunity though and Niamh McGrath had first point in ninth minute
Galway gradually asserted themselves as the game wore on, with Ann Marie Hayes returning to her more natural habitat in a defensive role.
The sides had shared just four points entering the second quarter but things picked up after that, with a Niamh McGrath free putting Galway ahead.
Kilkenny hit back with a brace of points from Shelley Farrell and Aisling Dunphy, both in the 25th minute but they were rocked back on the heels when O’Reilly cut in from the left and hand-passed to the Noresiders’ net, despite Emma Kavanagh getting her hurley to the sliotar.
Noreen Coen – on for the injured Molly Dunne – lofted over two points, including one off the sod and Galway were ahead at the break by 1-5 to 0-4.
The arm wrestle continued in the second half. Galway couldn’t put Kilkenny away but the Black and Ambers were unable to peg them back. The closest they got was to within a goal, when captain Michelle Quilty came off the bench to convert two frees.
It was to be Galway’s day though and McGrath brought her tally to five points with two late frees to give the Corribsiders some breathing space in the final seconds.
SCORERS FOR GALWAY: N McGrath 0-5(4fs); A O’Reilly 1-0; N Coen 0-2; E Haverty, E Kilkelly 0-1 each
SCORERS FOR KILKENNY: A Dalton (1f), M Quilty (2fs) 0-2 each; A Dunphy, S Farrell, A Neary 0-1 each
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. Subs: C Dormer for Phelan (21); K Hamilton for Walsh (40); M Quilty for Neary (47); M Walsh for Gaule (55)
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. Subs: N Coen for Dunne inj (23); O McGrath for Hanney (60+1); AM Starr for Haverty (60+2)
REFEREE: G Dowd (Limerick)