Kilkenny looking to put run of final pain behind them against Galway
Both sides are built around watertight defences but Kilkenny’s attack holds an edge
Galway’s Sarah Dervan and Denise Gaule of Kilkenny in action during last year’s final at Croke Park. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Final: Galway v Kilkenny, Croke Park, 7pm – Live on RTÉ2 from 6.10pm
There might have been nothing typical about the last 12 months, but for Kilkenny there’s a familiarity to how their year is ending, the county having reached its fifth All-Ireland camogie final in a row and, remarkably, its seventh in eight years.
They have, though, suffered a whole heap of heartache in Croke Park during that spell, losing five of their last six finals, including the last three, and if they’re going to get their hands on the O’Duffy Cup on Saturday night, they will have to get the better of the team that beat them last year – Galway.
Kilkenny manager Brian Dowling, who succeeded Ann Downey when she stepped down after the 2019 final, has, though, been able to name a side that includes eight of their starting line-up from their 2016 success, including two former players of the year in Ann Dalton and Denise Gaule. So, there’s no shortage of pedigree nor players who know Croke Park doesn’t always have to be a bleak house.
They haven’t been without their troubles this year, losing the hugely influential Katie Power to a broken kneecap sustained in a training match in October, while Kellyann Doyle only returned to action in the semi-finals after suffering a cruciate ligament injury.
But Dowling will take heart from a, thus far, unbeaten Championship campaign, Kilkenny topping their group with three wins out of three before ousting a fancied Cork side in the semi-finals. They showed plenty of steel in that display too, having trailed by six points in the early stages, a gutsy defensive effort in the final quarter giving them a two-point victory.
“When the final whistle went, the feeling was savage,” said Collette Dormer, another of the team’s 2016 winners. “You’re 14 months trying to get back to Croke Park to try right the wrongs of last year. That game was pure emotional for us.”
But Galway have suffered their fair share of Croke Park woes too, last year’s success their first since 2013, which was only the county’s second ever camogie All-Ireland title, their maiden triumph coming in 1996 – having lost all nine of their previous final appearances.
They’re now aiming for their first two-in-a-row which, if they succeeded, would make Sarah Dervan the first captain to raise the O’Duffy Cup in consecutive years since Dublin’s Kathleen Ryder achieved the feat in 1966.
Dervan is at the centre of a full-back line, with Shauna Healy and Heather Cooney either side, that didn’t concede a goal to either Cork in the group stage of this year’s Championship or to Tipperary in the semi-finals, six points their winning margin, the captain the player of the match in that encounter. Nor did they ship a goal to Kilkenny in last year’s final, despite being up against a usually prolific set of forwards.
That contest will, then, be key again to the outcome of this final, as will the one between a Kilkenny defence that was so resolute in their semi-final against a Galway attack that saw all six starting forwards get on the scoresheet against Tipperary. Not to mention the midfield battle, Galway’s featuring the 2019 player of the year and the player of the match 14 months ago, Niamh Kilkenny.
Whatever the outcome, it will be a unique occasion, played under the lights at Croke Park. A little bit of brightness at the end of a dark year.
GALWAY: Sarah Healy; Shauna Healy, Sarah Dervan (capt), Heather Cooney; Emma Helebert, Siobhán Gardiner, Tara Kenny; Aoife Donohue, Niamh Kilkenny; Carrie Dolan, Catriona Cormican, Rebecca Hennelly; Ailish O’Reilly, Niamh Hanniffy, Orlaith McGrath.
Subs: Laura Glynn, Siobhan McGrath, Noreen Coen, Roisin Black, Ciara Murphy, Anne Marie Starr, Catherine Finnerty, Niamh McGrath, Sarah Spellman, Lisa Casserly, Dervla Higgins, Siobhán Coen, Lorraine Ryan, Ciara Donohue, Molly Mannion.
KILKENNY: Aoife Norris; Michelle Teehan, Claire Phelan, Davina Tobin; Collette Dormer, Meighan Farrell, Grace Walsh; Anna Farrell, Laura Murphy; Miriam Walsh, Anne Dalton, Aoife Doyle; Mary O’Connell, Denise Gaule, Katie Nolan.
Subs: Emma Kavanagh, Niamh Deely, Steffi Fitzgerald, Lydia Fitzpatrick, Kellyann Doyle, Ciara O’Shea, Danielle Morrissey, Aoife Prendergast, Laura Norris, Catherine Foley, Ciara Phelan, Lucinda Gahan (capt), Miriam Bambrick, Micheala Kenneally, Edel Coonan.