Centre back stalwart Maher’s All-Ireland senior camogie success 16 years in the making
Five final defeats forgotten for now as Galway see off Kilkenny in dour decider
Therese Manton of Galway (left) and and Kilkenny’s Collette Dormer contest possession during the All-Ireland senior camogie final at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
On the full-stop trill of the final whistle, Therese Maher dropped her hurley and flipped her red helmet off behind her.
She sank to her knees and dipped her forehead to the Croke Park turf.
Then she sat back on her heels and raised her arms to the sky. After a 16-year career that had made her camogie’s best-known have-not, Galway’s centre back was suddenly and finally a have.
Maher’s team came through here by 1-9 to 0-7 over Kilkenny in what turned out to be a desperately poor All-Ireland camogie final.
A scrappy first-half goal by Galway corner forward Ailish O’Reilly was a debt Kilkenny were never able to wipe clear for the rest of the game and with Maher imperious at centre back and Niamh McGrath unerring from frees, Tony Ward’s side were always in control.
It meant Galway left Croke Park as double champions, their intermediate team – also managed by Ward – having beaten Limerick by 0-12 to 0-10 earlier in the afternoon.
Ward barely took time to raise a smile after the intermediate victory, instead walking straight down to the tunnel for the final preparations of the senior team.
Gave them a lift
“It definitely gave them a lift,” said Ward. “All they needed was the wink in the dressingroom, that’s all it was. Nobody said anything.
“There was no jumping up and down – we tore around the corner, composed ourselves, went into the dressingroom and took it as another game as if nothing was happening.”
The game itself was hard going, for spectators as much as for players. After a string of classic finals these past few years – a couple of them involving Galway – this was a nervy, scrappy match that never took off as a spectacle.
Dominated by countless rucks and poor touches, it was never easy on the eye. Not that Galway will care or even remember.
They were 1-5 to 0-4 up at the break and extended their lead to five points with a lovely strike off her left side by Emma Kilkelly in the 40th minute.
And although Kilkenny managed to pull back a couple of points from frees through substitute Michelle Quilty, they struggled to get within touching distance and never threatened a goal.
It meant Galway could go the last 20 minutes with only a couple of McGrath frees to show for them and still win by a comfortable five.
When the whistle went, all eyes turned to Maher. The rest of the Galway defenders rushed over to where she knelt, soon to be joined by the forwards and eventually the whole of the panel.
Galway’s only All-Ireland before this one came in 1996 – Maher joined in 1997, brought in as a 16-year-old by Ward in his first stint as manager.
Lost five finals
Since then they’ve lost five finals and she’s played in every one. At 32, she’s the only married member of the panel – captain Lorraine Ryan made sure in her speech to thank “our families, our boyfriends and the one husband we have”.
If this was the end of the road, what a view from the clifftop.
“I had a lot of emotions, I think, when the finally whistle went,” she said afterwards. “I was relieved, ecstatic, delighted. Just thrilled to finally get over the line and get that elusive medal that I’ve been trying so hard to get.
“I think initially it is very hard, once you lose. But I mean you put the gear bag away and then everyone else is getting out and getting going again.
“This year I’d done my own bit of training and during the winter season.
“March, April was coming and you kind of get that, ‘Will the body be able to go for one more year?’ When you enjoy it and it’s something you’ve played for most of your life, you love it. I’m so glad I went back.”