by Daragh Ó Conchúir at Croke Park
Three first-half goals, and particularly two just before half-time from Niamh Hanniffy and Ailish O’Reilly, and a player-of-the-match performance from Niamh Kilkenny were key as Galway held off a determined Kilkenny in front of a record attendance for a standalone Final of 24,730, to bag a third Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship.
The attendance figure was notable, maintaining a trend of increase that is emphasised by the fact that it was almost double the 12,476 that saw the 2014 deciders.
The game matched the auspicious occasion, providing a welter of excitement, wonderful skill, some stunning scores and relentless effort.
Galway’s preparations were hindered significantly by a knee injury suffered by ace defender Tara Kenny on Thursday night.
That brought Catherine Finnerty into the fray and though Kenny was a resounding loss, her replacement would go on to be hugely influential.
Another notable point from the throw-in was the deployment of Caitriona Cormican, the player who gave up ladies football to concentrate on Camogie this year and was the side’s vice-captain, being deployed to mark the very dangerous Anne Dalton and she too would perform magnificently.
As you would have expected, Kilkenny threw everything at Galway in the second half, having trailed by seven points after Carrie Dolan’s point soon after the restart and they were back within two by the 50th minute.
But just as they had done when the sides met in the League Final at the end of March, Galway showed the mental strength that has epitomised them all season and pulled away once more to inflict a third consecutive September defeat on the Cats.
Michelle Quilty hit the first of eight points from a free in the first minute but the Galway crowd were lifted off their seats within seconds, O’Reilly hitting the roof of the net after Niamh Kilkenny’s stunning swivel of the hips had gotten her away.
Kilkenny followed with a fantastic point from 50m but the Noresiders gradually settled into the fray well, firing over six of the next eight points to move two clear.
Denise Gaule, Davina Tobin and Marian Walsh all split the posts from play while Quilty was unerring from placed balls as the increasingly-overworked Galway defence began to give away frees
Quilty and Carrie Dolan added a brace of points each before Cathal Murray’s charges hit the purple patch that ultimately proved decisive.
Finnerty had a point before Hanniffy slid a ground shot to the net in the 26th minute, after O’Reilly and Sarah Spellman had threatened.
O’Reilly did the business two minutes later for her second, Finnerty supplying Kilkenny, whose delivery made its way through to O’Reilly, who made no mistake with only Emma Kavanagh to beat.
Kavanagh denied O’Reilly a hat-trick just before the short whistle and Grace Walsh cleared Spellman’s follow-up out for a 45, which Dolan slotted to make it 3-7 to 0-10 at the change of ends.
Dolan made it seven early in the second half but Kilkenny gradually reeled their opponents in. Quilty, Aoife Doyle, Miriam Walsh, Anna Farrell, Denise Gaule and an unusually quiet Anne Dalton were among the points and it was a two-point affair with 10 minutes of regulation time, and four minutes of injury time remaining.
Ann Downey’s crew wouldn’t score again however, while Galway found another gear, finishing with four consecutive points, one from a free in the middle of the field by goalkeeper Sarah Healy and two from their own on-fire Kilkenny to end a six-year wait to get their hands on the O’Duffy Cup.
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)