Two years ago Nowlan Park was the graveyard for Galway’s All Ireland campaign. On Saturday they banished those demons with hard-fought win over Kilkenny in their own back yard.
The game hung in the balance right until Tara Ruttledge pulled on a loose ball to fire past Catriona Ryan with two minutes left to play. Up to then the Cats had kept in touch thanks mainly to the accuracy of Aoife Neary from frees.
Ironically it was one of her poorer efforts that helped to give her side the impetus to mount a comeback that made for a gripping second half. Neary’s free dropped short and Edel Maher was on hand to finish. From then on the game ebbed and flowed right until Ruttledge raised the green flag.
Galway dominated the first half with their defence snuffing out any threat and even when danger did loom Therese Maher and her half-back colleagues dropped back excellently. Still, despite having the vast majority of possession the women from the West were not making it count on the scoreboard.
After 22 minutes they led by 0-6 to 0-2 with Niamh Kilkenny hitting four points, three from frees and one from play after a barnstorming run. Aislinn Connolly and Brenda Hanney had opened the scoring for the eventual winners before Aoife Neary got Kilkenny off the mark with a free eight minutes in. It was actually her side’s first shot of the match, such was Galway’s superiority.
Then, just before the break game moved up a notch as Brenda Hanney buried it. The full-forward was following up after her effort had been cleared off the line. Niamh Kilkenny immediately tagged on a point as the scoreboard began to give a truer reflection of what had been happening in this contest.
The green flag seemed to awaken the æhome’ side as suddenly the previously peerless Galway rearguard was looking shaky. After they failed to clear a ball bodies piled in and around the square and eventually the sliothar fell to Aisling Dunphy who treated everyone in Nowlan Park to a textbook ground stroke that flew into the net.
Veronica Curtin scythed through the Cats moments later to tap over to register the last score of a half that had really exploded in the last minutes. The score read 1-8 to 1-2 with Galway knowing that they would have to make their dominance count after the change of ends.
The high tempo continued after the restart as Maher got Kilkenny back into it with her goal. Aoife Neary and Aisling Dubphy’s efforts sandwiched a point from Galway sub Noreen Coen. Neary hit her fourth and fifth free to make it a one point match as we entered the final quarter.
Player of the match Niamh Kilkenny was on target on the double with a free and another great score after a trademark run. Kilkenny sub Shelly Farrell then split the posts with ten minutes to go and it looked like the game was beginning to turn. A free from Niamh Kilkenny kept the Westerners out in front as the nerves began to fray.
Galway failed to capitalise with their next three attacks before Ruttledge put the game beyond doubt with her goal. Captain Brenda Hanney got the last point of the day and then it was batten down the hatches down the other end as Galway stood firm and denied Kilkenny a late late goal.
SCORERS: Galway: Niamh Kilkenny 0-8 (4f), B Hanney 1-2, T Ruttledge 1-0, A Connolly, N Coen, V Curtin 0-1. Kilkenny: A Neary 0-5 (5f), A Duphy 1-1, E Maher 1-0, S Farrell 0-1.
KILKENNY: Catriona Ryan; Collette Dormer, Catherine Doherty, Grace Walsh; Jacqui Frisby, Claire Phelan, Elaine Aylward; Aisling Dunphy, Ann Dalton; Aoife Neary, -ine Fahey, Denise Gaule; Marie Dargan, Edel Maher, Michelle Quilty.
Subs: Edwina Keane for Jacqui Frisby (h/t), Shelly Farrell for Dargan (34mins), Marie O’Connor for Fahey (39mins), Keeva Fennelly for Dunphy (21mins).
GALWAY: Susan Earner; Therese Manton, SinÚad Cahalan, Lorraine Ryan; Ann Marie Hayes; Therese Maher, Heather Cooney; Niamh Kilkenny, Ann Marie Starr; Orla Kilkenny, Sandra Tannian, Aislinn Connolly; Tara Ruttledge, Brenda Hanney, Veronica Curtin.
Subs: Martina Conroy for Tannian (20mins), Noreen Coen for O Kilkenny (28mins).
REFEREE: Mike O’Kelly (Cork)