by Sarah Stanley
It has been another season of reaching finals and winning silverware for this mighty, experienced Kilkenny side but despite reaching two finals and winning one, it falls below the bar the team have set for themselves down through the years.
For the first time in four years, they entered a Championship campaign without the title of Division 1 League champions after Galway ended their dreams of a four-in-a-row in the final. Not surprisingly, they picked themselves straight back up and dominated the Leinster Final over Offaly during the summer. Since then, the Championship action has gotten underway and the Cats were back to their dominant selves.
“This season we have had our ups and downs” experienced defender Edwina Keane explains. “The league final unfortunately didn’t go our way because we were playing against a much stronger side who were up for it more than we were in Galway. It wasn’t one of our finer days out. In the Leinster Championship we were lucky against a tough Offaly side and we got through the Championship in good fashion and straight into the Semi-Finals.
“That has a disadvantage in that we have no serious, heavy game for a few weeks so we will see (this weekend) how good we are.”
She was left disappointed in March in not starting the League Final, however her ability to overlook the personal disappointment for the sake of the team was a breath of fresh air for someone who has won everything in the game at national level.
“Anytime you don’t start it is very disappointing. All you want every time, every game is to be playing in your county colours with the girls on the team but you have to look at it in perspective; who is doing better in the weeks and days leading up to a game and who is in the better position to be playing in the game that day to put out your best team – that’s it.
“I suppose I wasn’t on form and that’s fair enough, and then you have to be ready to come in whenever you get your chance to come into the game. It’s hard not starting but you have to see the bigger picture and see what’s the right thing for the team.”
The St. Martin’s player has a highly decorated trophy cabinet including an All-Ireland Championship at Adult, Minor and Under 16 level, along with numerous league and Leinster titles. In 2013 after heartbreak in the All-Ireland Final to Galway, Keane was named as an All-Star at right half-back, one of only four Kilkenny players that made the team that year.
The versatile player has featured in the backs, midfield and the forward line throughout her playing career but her most comfortable position now remains in defence.
“I have been playing in the backs, I was slotted back into the defence in an Under 18 final and I have been there for the last couple of years. At club I have played in the forwards, but I don’t know if I would be up to scratch to play there all the time”.
With all the success she has achieved, she has also suffered huge disappointment along the way, suffering not one but two anterior cruciate ligament injuries in her career to date. Her ability to overcome the mental and physical disappointment that comes with long-term injuries is what contributes to her winning mentality both on and off the field. Her drive to achieve and succeed certainly cannot be questioned.
“They (injuries) take their toll on you. I did one of the injuries when I was 17 so coming back from that one was a little easier because being that bit younger, the head recovered that bit quicker. You do think about everything ten times over, you build the whole thing up.
“It was tough coming back but unfortunately there were two girls that also had the same injury, Kellyanne and Niamh, so they were great support to have at the time. It would have been very difficult doing it on my own but being in there with them and looking on at the girls and how well they were doing that made you want to get back quicker and do more to get back to where you want to be.”
Looking ahead to the Semi-Final this weekend Keane feels that their preparations have gone well. Nothing changes their training in the days leading up to the Semi-Final, bar the physicality of the training in the days before the game.
“We focus on ourselves. Regardless of who we are playing it is really about ourselves, getting ourselves in the best possible condition. Getting our touch up. Every training stays the same, maybe the week leading up to a match it might not be as physically tough but in terms of who we are playing it is the same and we do what we always do.”
The management team of Ann and her sister Angela Downey have worked relentlessly to ensure that success is achieved within Kilkenny Camogie. Keane believes that they have been the life and soul of Camogie within the county and wants to repay them for their hard work and dedication by bringing the O’Duffy Cup back to the county.
“When you mention Kilkenny Camogie, their two names spring to mind. They’re the life and soul of it. They put so much into it and Ann has done so much for Camogie in Kilkenny that people don’t even realise. The backroom that she has put together for us the last couple of years is second to none. The facilities she gets for us, our food, physio, everything is top notch.
“All they do for us, we want to repay them by playing well in matches and getting back to the All-Ireland Final so hopefully we will be able to do that. We have got there the last couple of years and just haven’t been able to get over the line so hopefully this year will be different.”
The talent coming through from the underage structure in the county is in good shape and some of the younger players have been blended into the Senior panel under the guidance of the experienced players who have seen it all.
“There are always younger girls flying it in training and coming up through the ranks. Kellyanne Doyle is flying and in great form. She is getting more and more confident every game she goes out so I would love to see her continue the way she is going. Danielle Morrisey is another that has come into the forwards and is doing brilliant. She has great work rate and great determination on the ball. It’s great to see.”
Recovering from losing the last two All-Ireland Finals by a single point has been tough for the team to take but Keane feels it will only help them grow stronger together and get the best out of the team.
“It’s hard enough to lose an All-Ireland Final in general but to lose it by a point you just go back over every single part of the game and try to see where it went wrong. You delve into it a bit closer than if you were to lose it by 10 points, you would feel easier to accept knowing we weren’t good enough but to lose by a point there is always that doubt that we could have won it and if this didn’t happen or if maybe that last free didn’t go against us it could have been different. It’s water under the bridge now, this is a new year and we just have to make the most of the situation we are in at the moment”.
The knockout stages bring thrilling excitement to the Championship so the energy will be electric when Kilkenny face off against Tipperary this coming Saturday. The game throws-in at 5.30pm in the LIT Gaelic Grounds, Limerick.