Julianne Malone is relishing a return to Croke Park next Saturday, where a quick reunion with Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior camogie champions Galway awaits, following Kilkenny’s 2-24 to 1-11 defeat of Dublin in Saturday’s quarter-final at FBD Semple Stadium.
An All-Ireland winner with the Stripeywomen in 2016, Malone missed the last three seasons after travelling to Australia but has proven a real addition to the ranks this term, particularly with the retirement of Davina Tobin and Collette Dormer, and the unavailability of Meghan Farrell, Aoife Doyle and Kellyann Doyle due to travels and long-term injury.
Kilkenny and Galway drew in the final group game of the championship, meaning that the Cats just missed out on a direct route to the last four on score difference.
They are there now and this time, the clash must produce a winner.
Brian Dowling will go into the game with a huge degree of optimism and if the external view was that he could not afford to ship the losses he did, performances this summer have made people think twice.
The same applied in this display, as the Cats recovered from a slow start that saw them fall four points behind thanks to a fantastic 13th minute goal from Niamh Gannon, to score the next goal and ten points.
Malone was among the point scorers, as was Denise Gaule, who provided a resounding finish from a 24th minute penalty after a foul on official player of the match, Miriam Walsh.
Gaule registered 1-10 despite being a bit wayward in the second half, while Walsh would grab a goal and three points, taking a neat pass from Gaule to finish from close range ten minutes after the restart.
“We’re delighted to win a quarter-final,” said Malone afterwards. “It’s great to get back to Croke Park now to play a semi. We’re looking forward to it.
“Dublin threw it all at us early on but we woke up then and started to get going. We probably didn’t finish as strong as we could have, but overall, it was a very good team performance.
“After they got their first goal, we responded well and that’s what we wanted to do.
“You’re kind of closed off to what everyone is saying outside. That’s what happens. Girls retire. We’ve a complete new team coming on. There’s new girls going to shine this year that weren’t on the team last year. All those girls that came on today, every one of them are well able to hurl.
“You just block that out, you don’t listen to what people are saying. We’ve a new team, we’re building on that every training and it proved it when we win a quarter-final and head onto Croker.
“It’s good to be back and to get a chance to get back and play in Croker. I was in Sydney for a little over two and a half years. It was good to get the break. It just makes you that bit hungry to come back and try and get on the team.
“I know I got get time during the League but it was hard to get my place and it still is. You’re fighting for your place every time you’re going to training. It wasn’t too bad conditioning-wise but it’s the pace of the game that takes getting used to again.
“I played in Croker last in 2018 so I’m looking forward to being back now.”
Dublin manager Adrian O’Sullivan was in philosophical mood, aware of the bigger picture of the progress his charges have made and the hope that operating at this stage of the championship will bring about more for 2023.
“We got the start we wanted,” agreed O’Sullivan. “We couldn’t have hoped for a better start. Tactically we were spot on, we were winning a lot of breaks and we got a great goal from (Niamh) Gannon and Ais O’Neill was flying. But like all good teams, Kilkenny figured out what we were at and they were quite astute on the line. They managed to free up Claire Phelan. We struggled to push up on her and get our shape back and they got a run on us.
“But I thought we fought really hard in the second half. We made it very competitive. And the group have given us that all year. You can guarantee they’ll go to the end. We finished with five of last year’s minor team on the field at the end so it’s very much a work in progress.
“We’ve developed an awful lot. This time last year we were up in Newry after escaping a relegation game by the skin of our teeth. I think we’ve progressed a long way as a group and we’ll just have to lick the wounds over the winter and try to find that extra 10 or 15 per cent to try close the gap a little more.”