by Daragh Ó Conchúir
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final
Saturday August 18th
Semple Stadium, 5.30pm
Galway v Kilkenny
IT CAN not have been easy for Cathal Murray to take over the reins as manager of Galway at the conclusion of the League when the players sought a change despite reaching the Semi-Final and Tony O’Donovan departed after just four months in the hot seat.
Murray came in with a strong reputation as a player and in management with his club Sarsfields and Galway U21s, and brought highly-rated coach Conor Dolan and former players Caroline Murray and Orla Kilkenny with him. Since then, they have lost only one game in competitive action, and garnered silverware in the form of the Interprovincial Competition when representing Connacht.
That defeat was notable though, as it came in the last Group 1 tie at the hands of Kilkenny. Both sides were already qualified and while a direct route to the Semi-Finals was on offer, it was the opportunity to lay down a real marker this time that would have been Galway’s motivation.
They looked dangerous early on but struggled to find a way around Anne Dalton, who has perfected the sweeper’s role for Kilkenny. As the game wore on, the Cats exerted greater control and the Maroons’ boss said afterwards that he felt his charges had thrown in the towel in the closing quarter as they fell to a seven-point defeat at Nowlan Park.
Galway had shown glimpses of what they were capable of but this is what frustrates them and their supporters – an inability to perform to a high level as consistently as they should with the talent that is at their disposal.
To that end, the 16-point Quarter-Final win over Dublin at Páirc Uí Chaoimh was interesting. Some criticised the Tribeswomen for their failure to score a goal but raising green flags has never really been an issue for them, although the loss of full-forward Niamh Hanniffy for the rest of the campaign with a knee ligament injury is a blow in this regard.
Galway were extremely professional against the Dubs however. They responded to the absence of space closer to the opposition posts by taking their scores from further afield and 20 points was an excellent return.
Particularly heart-warming for the management would have been the form of the two Niamhs, Kilkenny and McGrath, while Aoife Donohue was unmarkable on occasions and Catríona Cormican also prospered. Three of the subs got on the scoresheet too.
Meanwhile, Sarah Dervan excelled at full-back, as Dublin looked to isolate her with Mairi Moynihan. The Galway captain dominated the air and the ground, and had excellent support form Tara Kenny and Heather Cooney, the latter relishing the new role of centre-back.
There appear to be few weaknesses, if any, in the Kilkenny team. Indeed Ann Downey has created real depth and competition for places over the last few seasons, even since overseeing the long-awaited All-Ireland success of 2016.
Last year, 17-year-old Danielle Morrissey established herself in the first 15 and indeed, was entrusted with free-taking responsibilities. This year, fellow Minor Aoife Doyle has flourished. In the meantime, Edwina Keane, Kelly Ann Doyle and Niamh Deely are all available once more after missing last year with cruciate knee ligament injuries.
Then you have the likes of Denise Gaule, Katie Power, the Farrell sisters (captain Shelly, Anna and Meighan), Miriam Walsh, and the phenomenal Dalton, Claire Phelan, Collette Dormer and Davina Tobin in defence.
The loss of their All-Ireland title to Julia White’s injury-time point for Cork last year had to hurt but they dusted themselves off and bagged a third League crown in succession, getting the better of their old rivals in the Final on home turf.
That game will long be remembered for the magnificence of the Noresiders in the opening 18 minutes, when they established a 0-10 to 0-1 lead. In the end, they only held on by a point but they have illustrated their ability to take lessons on board continuously in the past four years.
If Galway perform to their potential, this could be a game for the ages. If not, Kilkenny will be expected to advance.
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Finals
Saturday August 18th
Semple Stadium, Thurles
Galway v Kilkenny
Cork v Tipperary
Students/Senior Citizens: €8
Under 18s: €3
Tickets can be purchased online from www.tickets.ie and from selected Centra and SuperValu stores nationwide
Tickets will also be available to purchase at the ground on the day of the match.