Galway triumph in physical affair as dogged Kilkenny fail to find their rhythm

Niamh McGrath and Ailish O’Reilly propel the westerners to a first title since 1996

Galway’s Heather Cooney (left) and Therese Maher celebrate. Maher had lost in five previous finals before yesterday’s triumph. Photograph: Inpho

Galway’s Heather Cooney (left) and Therese Maher celebrate. Maher had lost in five previous finals before yesterday’s triumph. Photograph: Inpho

Mon, Sep 16, 2013, 01:00

It was no classic. It started slowly and got progressively slower, with no point from play in either the first 15 minutes or the last 20. It was rough and physical throughout, with referee Ger O’Dowd oddly reluctant to pull a yellow card at any stage. And yet in Galway this morning, they are All-Ireland champions. Everything else is more or less bunk.

They won at their ease in the end, pulling away from a dogged Kilkenny side near the end of the first half and never giving them a chance to get back in their slipstream. In Ailish O’Reilly, they had a corner-forward who was a jolt of electricity anytime she got on the ball. In Niamh McGrath – daughter of Hopper – they had a free-taker who cashed in on the fouls that O’Reilly consistently drew.

“It’s great because we have been the bridesmaids so often,” said Galway manager Tony Ryan afterwards. “It probably wasn’t a great game to watch with defences on top, but we have come here in brilliant games and lost them. We said on Tuesday night we didn’t care if it was three points to two as long as we had the three.”

Schoolyard stuff
For long spells here early on, a final score of 0-3 to 0-2 didn’t seem so outlandish. Neither side settled well, a combination of blustery conditions and pretty obvious nerves choking off whatever creativity the players had in them. It was schoolyard stuff most of the time – lots of players chasing the one ball, endless stoppages for O’Dowd to throw the sliotar in to restart.

After McGrath and Ann Dalton swapped early frees – Dalton’s a monster from 70 metres that shone as the one tea-light of high-quality striking – Emer Haverty nailed the first point from play on 15 minutes. Galway could have surged clear when O’Reilly cut in on goal but she was unable to find anyone free for a pass and was crowded out. With Therese Maher mopping up everything around the Galway half-back line, it seemed only a matter of time before they found their groove in attack.

Yet it was Kilkenny who had by far the best goal-scoring opportunity in that period, with Shelly Farrell released right in front of goal by a neat pass from Aoife Neary. It seemed as easy to score as to miss – especially since the handpassed goal is allowed in camogie – but Farrell just got under her attempt and it cleared the bar by a foot.

Farrell was causing problems by now and when her second point soon after was followed by a well-taken score from Aisling Dunphy, it pushed Kilkenny into a 0-4 to 0-3 lead. It turned out to be their only lead of the day, however, and held it for less than a minute.

Again it was O’Reilly who placed the stone in the slingshot, skating past the Kilkenny full-back line before letting go a hand-passed effort that goalkeeper Emma Kavanagh got her stick to but couldn’t deflect clear. When substitute Noreen Coen followed up with two points inside three minutes just before the break, it pushed Galway into a 1-5 to 0-4 lead.

Hamstrung
Kilkenny scored the first point of the second half – another fine effort from Dalton – but it was as close as they got. Too many of them froze, their touch and striking a shadow of what it had been during their heart-stopping win over Cork in the semi-final. Maybe they were hamstrung by the occasion, although with nine of the starting team having played in the ’09 final and another two coming off the bench it seems unlikely. Whatever the reason, they hit only two Michelle Quilty frees for the rest of the game.

“I’m heartbroken for the 24 girls inside there who have given everything for Kilkenny camogie,” said one of their joint managers Graham Dillon. “I didn’t feel they deserved to go down that way. They just never got going and probably know that themselves.

“You couldn’t question their work-rate but they didn’t give a great account of their hurling skills which is a real pity. They just never got off the ground today . . . That was a poor goal to concede and Shelly Farrell had got a hand-pass away at the far end that could as easily have gone into the net. Their goal went in and ours didn’t. But Galway are deserving winners . . .”