The year had been tipping along nicely under the new management team headed by Niall Williams writes Daragh Ó Conchúir. Following a period of underachievement, Kilkenny were winning games again. By virtue of beating Derry, Tipperary and Offaly, they reached the league semi-final.
Wexford were five points too good but it had been a useful campaign, with new players blooded and Williams testing even some of the more experienced players by trying them out in new positions. Learning about what he had at his disposal. Kilkenny were making a recovery after some forgettable seasons out of the limelight. But you might not have picked them out as potential All-Ireland champions.
That has changed in a matter of weeks. A succession of two-point victories over Galway and Clare, both teams with genuine ambitions themselves, has placed them in a very strong position in the Liberty Insurance senior camogie championship.
Next up are Derry on Saturday and given that the Oak Leafers are experiencing a sharp learning curve in their debut campaign at the top level, it isn’t being fanciful to predict another victory for the Black And Amber. That would guarantee a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals at least. Beating Wexford in their last Group 1 game would secure a place in the last four. You wouldn’t rule that out the way they are going at the moment.
The catalyst for it all was overcoming the All-Ireland champions in the Leinster final. That carried on the work of the league but brought it to a new level. It was a scalp that infused the players with belief.
“We were happy enough with the league” says defender, Grace Walsh. “We would have preferred to be in the league final and to have won it but things don’t always go your way.
“We worked hard for the league but we’ve worked harder for the championship. That’s the real thing. Everyone is more focussed now, training is a lot more intense and everyone is really fighting for their positions.
“I think getting the win over Wexford in the Leinster final was a great boost for Kilkenny camogie and might bring a few more younger supporters up and people wanting to be involved.
“It was a great boost to the squad too. You’d notice the difference in the mood in the camp. They were happier and fighting even harder. Winning that, after beating the All-Ireland champions, you knew you could go the whole way. It was a great feeling.”
Kilkenny have been away from the top for too long. After a young team made the 2009 final, you fancied that they might challenge for years but it didn’t happen. Walsh wasn’t around at that juncture but she feels that they are stronger now than for some time.
“Losing the All-Ireland knocked the confidence a bit I’d say. Then last year, there were a lot of players missing, gone away for the summer. This year, everyone’s back, everyone’s on board, everyone wants the same thing.”
That is an All-Ireland. Her brother, Tommy has eight. The hurlers have had their setbacks this year but regardless of what happens in their do-or-die clash with Tipperary, they remain inspirational figures.
“Everyone at home is great for coming to the matches. Tommy and his wife go to most of my matches when they can. He’d be good for giving advice, telling me I need to work back a little bit more or go forward a little bit more, whichever it is.
“And it’s nice to hear because he’s done it as well. But I get the same from the rest of the lads at home, and my mother and father as well.”
“Everyone expects so much out of Kilkenny, they’re so good at hurling. Hopefully this year anyway, but some day, we’ll get up to their standards. They’re an unbelievable team.”
That example has taught them not to take anything for granted and the Tullaroan woman won’t be looking any further than Derry this weekend.
“After the Leinster final, we were training two days later and that’s the way we’ve been all along. It’s one game at the time.”