Kilkenny Queens Once More
by Pro Óg on the 17th of December 2020
Liberty Insurance All Ireland Championship Final
2020 finally produced a glimmer of joy when Kilkenny were crowned champions of Ireland on the 12th of December. The Cats put in a skillful, gritty and determined performance and walked out as well-deserved winners over a gifted Galway side on a crisp, cold night in Croke Park.
The game managed to throw up some surprises even before the ball was thrown in, when it was announced that Siobhán McGrath would start for Galway in place of Rebecca Hennelly. McGrath managed to make her presence felt soon enough, as she slotted over a point in the second minute to commence the scoring. The rest of the first quarter was a tit-for-tat affair, with the teams taking the water break level at 0-3 apiece. Included in this tally was Aoife Doyle of Kilkenny’s first point of the game, who would go on to be the well-earned recipient of Player of the Match.
The teams resumed play in the second quarter in an even more dogged manner. The Kilkenny backs had their hands full in the reopening minutes as Ailish O’Reilly and Carrie Dolan split the posts for Galway, until these were counteracted by Kilkenny points by Mary O’Connell and stalwart Anne Dalton.
However, the Cats must have been getting déjà vu when, just like the 2019 final, Galway put the sliotar in the net in the 26th minute. A lovely looping handpass from McGrath to her sister Orlaith saw her round Aoife Norris to slot the ball home, leaving Galway with a 3-point lead. This was whittled down to 2 points when Doyle notched up another point for Kilkenny, but her chance was agonisingly close to a goal. The teams went in with the scoreline reading 1-5 to 0-6 in favour of Galway.
Surprisingly enough, after the game the Kilkenny players were keen to point out the calm atmosphere in the changing rooms at half-time. There was, they said, an emphasis on “sticking to the game plan” and “keeping the show on the road”. Whatever was said must have worked, because the Noresiders burst out of the traps with renewed vigour. The teams traded points until Kilkenny finally took the lead again, via a Denise Gaule point in the 39th minute. Carrie Dolan earned another point for the Tribeswomen, before Mary O’Connell was unlucky to miss a handpass and Doyle picked out another point for the Cats.
Heading into the final quarter, the score read 1-08 to 0-12 for Kilkenny. The last fifteen minutes were agonising to watch as Galway drew the game back level.
The turning point arrived in the 58th minute. Steaming towards the Galway goal, Gaule was dragged down and referee Owen Elliott awarded a penalty. Gaule stepped up to do the honours, and in a deathly still Croke Park buried the sliotar in the bottom corner.
Even with just two minutes of normal time left, there still wasn’t any certainty as to the final result. Galway’s resilience was proven as they charged back up the field in the last minute in search of an equalising goal, but it wasn’t to be. The final whistle was blown and Kilkenny were, after three consecutive painful All-Ireland losses, champions of Ireland once again.
Particular mention has to go to the Kilkenny defence, who collectively put in an absolutely stalwart performance. While ostensibly a wing-back, Grace Walsh spent much of the match on daring upfield runs, while the likes of Davina Tobin and Claire Phelan gave everything to nullify Galway’s lethal forwards.
Comhghairdeas mór lenár gcailíní agus bain taitneamh as na ceiliúradh!
Galway: 1. Sarah Healy; 2. Shauna Healy, 3. Sarah Dervan (Capt.), 4. Heather Cooney; 5. Emma Helebert, 6. Siobhán Gardiner, 7. Tara Kenny; 8. Aoife Donohue (0-1), 9. Niamh Kilkenny (0-1); 10. Carrie Dolan (0-6, 0-5f), 11. Catriona Cornican, 17. Siobhán McGrath (0-2); 13. Ailish O’Reilly (0-1), 14. Niamh Hanniffy, 15. Orlaith McGrath (1-0).
Substitutions: 24. Sarah Spellman for Helebert (50), 12. Rebecca Hennelly for Donohue (61)
Kilkenny: 1. Aoife Norris; 2. Michelle Teehan, 3. Claire Phelan, 4. Davina Tobin; 5. Colette Dormer, 6. Meighan Farrell, 7. Grace Walsh (0-1); 8. Anna Farrell, 20. Kellyann Doyle; 10. Miriam Walsh, 11. Anne Dalton (0-1), 12. Aoife Doyle (0-4); 13. Mary O’Connell (0-1), 14. Denise Gaule (1-6, 0-4f, 1-0p), 15. Katie Nolan (0-1).
Substitutions: 9. Laura Murphy for O’Connell (53), 17. Niamh Deely for K. Doyle
Referee: Owen Elliot (Antrim)
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