“For those 15 girls it’s a brilliant achievement and something you’ll never forget”
By Daragh Ó Conchúir
It will be glitz and glamour at Croke Park this evening, as the 2022 PwC Camogie All-Stars banquet brings the curtain down on another fantastic season.
It was a campaign that provided a countless displays of grit and blood and thunder and weekly exhibitions of power, athleticism and eye-popping skill in both the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Championships and Littlewoods Ireland Leagues.
While there will be winners, and as All-Ireland champions, Kilkenny will be expected to dominate the awards, there will not be any losers as the All-Stars ceremony is a celebration for every nominee, their family members, counties and clubs.
Such was the calibre of competition this year that one could not envy the selectors in choosing their nominees for the All-Stars and Soaring Stars. Picking the teams tonight and the other individual awards of PwC GPA Players of the Year and Manager of the Year are difficult tasks too.
In winning their second All-Ireland senior title in three seasons, Kilkenny will be expected to dominate. The Stripeywomen have 11 of the 36 PwC All-Star nominations, while Miriam Walsh is one of the three nominees for Player of the Year along with Cork’s Katrina Mackey and Waterford’s Lorraine Bray.
Meanwhile, Brian Dowling is in contention for Manager of the Year along with Cathal Murray, who steered the Galway intermediates to All-Ireland success and the seniors to National League glory, and the duo that stewarded Antrim’s first ever second team to an All-Ireland Premier Junior Championship triumph, Brian Kearney and Mark McFadden.
Despite losing a third of a team through retirements, injury and travel, Kilkenny went through the season unbeaten in competitive games, although they missed out on the Division 1 League Final on score difference having drawn with Cork, who in turn were defeated in the decider by Galway.
They won the Leinster Championship prior to the commencement of the All-Ireland series and again, a draw with defending champions Galway in the group stages of the blue riband competition – a pulsating clash that must be very close to game of the year – meant they missed out on direct progression to the last four.
Dowling, along with Tommy Shefflin, Ray Challoner, Philly Larkin and Pat O’Neill, had overseen the introduction of a number of new players such as the Fitzgerald sisters Tiffanie and Steffi Fitzgerald, while others such as Laura Murphy and Michaela Kenneally established themselves on the team and Walsh and Katie Nolan flourished while becoming team leaders.
The manager had been buoyed by an outstanding Leinster Final performance and a gritty victory in Antrim when down to 14 players, while the performance against Galway infused the camp but particularly the players with even greater confidence.
“That was a huge one as well,” says Dowling, who has committed to a fourth season at the helm with the Cats, having initially been brought in as coach by his predecessor, Ann Downey in 2019. “That was our big test against a big, big team and it was away (in Athenry). We were disappointed we didn’t win but we didn’t lose either and to stand up to the test in a fast game, we came away knowing we can play against one of the best teams in the country.
“For the likes of Tiffanie Fitzgerald and a few more, that was a first big test and they stood up to it and that gave the girls a lot of confidence going forward.”
Not winning their group proved no obstacle to Dowling’s crew, as they made short work of Dublin in the quarter-final and then accounted for Galway in the semi-final.
In the decider, super sub Sophie O’Dwyer’s dramatic late goal and Denise Gaule’s injury-time point edged them past Cork to enable Aoife Prendergast to take possession of the O’Duffy Cup from President of the Camogie Association, Hilda Breslin.
Meanwhile, the Cork players watched on distraught from the pitch, having lost a second major final in a matter of months and fallen just short in the All-Ireland Final for the second year in a row.
They can take solace from Kilkenny however, with the Cats having endured the agony of defeat at the last hurdle far too often for their liking in the past decade, including three years in succession before they got over the line in 2020. The Rebels have been rewarded for their excellence with ten All-Star nominations.
Waterford ended a 53-year absence from the semi-final stage and for long periods, looked as if they would be playing in the season’s centrepiece before being reeled in by the Leesiders. They have seven nominations as a result.
League champions and All-Ireland semi-finalists Galway have five while the beaten All-Ireland quarter-finalists make it six counties represented, Dublin securing two nominations, including Aisling O’Neill, who turned heads while in the midst of sitting her Leaving Cert exams, and Limerick’s one, via high-scoring forward Caoimhe Costelloe.
Dowling, who was named Manager of the Year in in 2020, is looking forward to tonight’s ceremony, with the All-Stars that year having been announced online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I’ve never been at the All-Stars before. In 2020 I was sitting at home so we missed out on it all. I’m sure it’ll be a great night.
“First and foremost, players and management, everyone will say it is about the team but it is nice to win individual awards, especially for the girls. The aim at the start of the year is to win an All-Ireland and everything after that is a bonus but anyone that does win an All-Star, for those 15 girls it’s a brilliant achievement and something you’ll never forget.”
PwC Camogie All-Star Nominations
Goalkeeper: Amy Lee (Cork), Aoife Norris (Kilkenny), Brianna O’ Regan (Waterford). Corner-Back: Libby Coppinger (Cork), Michelle Teehan (Kilkenny), Shauna Healy (Galway), Tiffanie Fitzgerald (Kilkenny). Full-Back: Grace Walsh (Kilkenny), Iona Heffernan (Waterford), Sarah Dervan (Galway). Half-Back: Laura Hayes (Cork), Laura Murphy (Kilkenny), Orla Hickey (Waterford), Saoirse McCarthy (Cork). Centre-Back: Claire Phelan (Kilkenny), Laura Treacy (Cork), Róisín Black (Galway). Midfield: Aoife Donohue (Galway), Ashling Thompson (Cork), Hannah Looney (Cork), Katie Power (Kilkenny), Lorraine Bray (Waterford). Half-Forward: Abby Flynn (Waterford), Caoimhe Costelloe (Limerick), Denise Gaule (Kilkenny), Julianne Malone (Kilkenny) Centre-Forward: Aisling Maher (Dublin), Beth Carton (Waterford), Fiona Keating (Cork). Corner-Forward: Aisling O’ Neill (Dublin), Katie Nolan (Kilkenny), Katrina Mackey (Cork), Niamh Rockett (Waterford). Full-Forward: Ailish O’ Reilly (Galway), Amy O’Connor (Cork), Miriam Walsh (Kilkenny).
PwC GPA Player of the Year: Lorraine Bray (Waterford), Katrina Mackey (Cork), Miriam Walsh (Kilkenny). Intermediate: Joanne Casey (Cork), Lisa Casserly (Galway), Niamh McPeake (Galway). Premier Junior: Dervla Cosgrove (Antrim), Áine Graham (Antrim), Emma Laverty (Antrim).
Manager of the Year: Brian Dowling (Kilkenny), Brian Kearney and Mark McFadden (Antrim), Cathal Murray (Galway).