Kilkenny camogie players aiming to finish on the ultimate grace note
Garce Walsh and senior team will be out to fill most the glaring gap in their championship CVs with victory over Galway
Grace Walsh feels the team’s new management and the players own increased desire explains why they finally look like reaching their potential and winning a senior camogie All-Ireland. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
In the week leading up to this year’s All-Ireland Colleges Camogie final, KCLR dutifully relayed the poor mouth being played by the back-room staff of the Loreto School’s team that was about to take on St Brigid’s of Loughrea.
Despite the fact Loreto were going for their fourth All-Ireland in a row, the third of which was won a year previously with a 4-11 to 1-10 victory over the self-same Loughrea school, there was no question of anyone getting ahead of themselves.
“We’ll go in as outsiders,” said Barry O’Neill of Loreto.
Kilkenny to the studs on their boots. Loreto held Loughrea to three scores from play all day on their way to a 1-11 to 1-6 victory. It was the sixth year in a row for the Colleges A title to go to a Kilkenny school.
In the Junior ranks, Loreto completed a five-in-a-row with a 1-14 to 2-2 win, also over Loughrea.
Add in the fact Kilkenny have won five of the last eight All-Ireland minor titles – and been runners-up twice in that time – and you’re left with a single glaring anomaly. Kilkenny haven’t won a senior All-Ireland since 1994.
In an era of barely-checked dominance by the male of the species, Kilkenny have only occasionally been able to make a final. The closest they’ve came was a one-point defeat to Tipperary in 1999 and if that was seen as progress, it was obliterated by a 16-point hammering by the same side two years later.
Tomorrow will only be their fifth final in 19 years. How come? “I don’t know,” says Grace Walsh, sister of Tommy and wing forward on the side that takes on Galway tomorrow.
“People going away, management changing. Last year wasn’t really a great year for us because everyone was gone away on J1s but this year everyone is back and we have a new management from outside the county. I think everyone of us just really wanted it this year.”
After an early exit, at the quarter-final stage, last summer, the job lay vacant for three months as nobody put their hand up to take it. Dillon is a Dub, Williams from Westmeath, and as a duo they’d had success at DCU in the Ashbourne Cup in 2012. They arrived at Christmas with a blank slate.
“We came in with a new approach, with no preconceptions,” says Dillon. “We opened it up to any camogie-playing girl to come in and have a go at it. We had a big response to it, a lot of girls came in. Most are now involved in the intermediate and senior set-ups. They’ve all rowed in together.
“Nearly all the players have under-16 and minor titles, even college All-Irelands. We asked them if they had the one medal they really want – a senior inter-county All-Ireland. There was a resounding ‘No’.”
Walsh was on the first Loreto team to win an All-Ireland, in 2010, along with Aisling Dunphy and Claire Phelan. Despite their heritage and their underage success, it hasn’t happened for them on the biggest stage.
Then again, it can’t be easy living in the shadow of the greatest hurling team of all time. Must bring its own pressures.
“Sometimes, yeah,” she says. “You sometimes come up against teams and they think you’re going to be great just because you’re from Kilkenny.
“It’s not always the way but it does happen. You’re always trying to be like the men and trying to see what they’re doing with their tactics.”
Ask her brother, though, if it’s a bit unfair the camogie team is expected to be all things to all women just because of the stripes on their jersey and he doesn’t miss a beat.
“No, I don’t think so,” he says. “The expectation is probably fair because they’ve been doing it underage. For the last number of years since I’ve been watching, they’ve been winning under-16 titles and under-18 titles the whole time. They needed to bring it on to the senior level. Thankfully, this year they have.
“They’ve proved it at underage so that shows they’re well capable of doing it. Thankfully, this year they’ve put in the effort and they’re getting the results for it. So I think the expectation is fair and the girls are living up to it.” Not before time.