Gahan and Cats determined to get over final hurdle

Kilkenny have lost seven of their last eight camogie finals, including their last three

Kilkenny’s Katie Power can’t hide her disappointment after last year’s All-Ireland final defeat to Galway. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

There's often talk of how much heartache the male footballers of Mayo have experienced in Croke Park in recent times, but spare a thought for Kilkenny camogie. Since 2000 they've played in eight All-Ireland finals, and lost seven of them - including the last three. Little wonder, then, that rather than dwell on all that pain, Lucinda Gahan chooses to insist that "the past is the past".

It has, though, been a demoralising spell for a county that did little but win in Croke Park before this spell, most famously completing a seven-in-a-row back in 1991.

One of the stars of that team, Ann Downey, was manager when they broke their losing streak in 2016 to win their first senior title since 1994, but she stepped down from the role after last year's defeat to Galway, former county hurler Brian Dowling succeeding her.

It's Galway again in next Saturday's final, which, remarkably, will be Kilkenny's seventh in eight years, and captain Gahan is just hoping the team can rediscover some of that 2016 mojo.


“We just have to believe in ourselves,” she says. “No one’s going to forget about the last few years, especially the girls who went through it all. They want an All-Ireland title again. We’re doing our best to work on the mistakes we’ve made in the past, this year we’re very hopeful it’ll go right. We’ve a new management team and a completely new panel as well. We’ve put in a lot of hard work all year, we’re just staying positive. So yeah, the past is the past!”

And last month's two point semi-final victory over Cork, having trailed by five in the early stages, has given the team plenty of confidence, says Gahan. "That was the time to shine and all 15 and the subs who came on did. A lot of the talk was about Cork and Galway, but we always believed we could get past them. The hard work really told in the end."

The Kilkenny players celebrate their semi-final win over COrk at the final whistle. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Gahan has put in a whole heap of hard work herself to get back on to the panel having not played a competitive game "for seven or eight years". She captained her county to victory in the 2006 Minor All-Ireland final, winning the title twice more before also collecting the Intermediate crown, before joining the senior set-up when she was just 16.

Once she finished college, though, qualifying as a psychiatric nurse, she left Ireland, spending six years in Cardiff and a year in Australia. In the absence of camogie, she took up Gaelic football and running, competing in several marathons, just to fill the gap.

"I wasn't sure I was going to come back to Ireland, so I never imagined I'd be back playing camogie again. But I came home in 2018 and went back to it with Dicksboro. I was really nervous playing my first game. Was I going to be able to play as well as before?

“You feel like you have a lot to prove having been at this level years ago. I trained hard to keep up with the fitness levels. The women are so much stronger, faster now. I’m 31, so you question whether you can come back, ‘am I too old?’ But you never are. There is still a lot to achieve at that age and it’s never too late.”

Come 2019, Gahan captained Dicksboro to the county title which, in turn, earned her the Kilkenny captaincy. Despite that honour, though, she has struggled to make the team, her prospects not helped by breaking a hand early in the year. But whatever happens Saturday, she’s just thrilled to be back in the fold.

“It’s hard to explain. I just can’t believe I’m here as captain of the Kilkenny senior camogie team. It’s what you dream of when you are a young girl. You are brought up playing camogie, all you do is play camogie. All this hard work, this is what you do it for. You want to get all the way to the end.”

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times