By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Ann Downey was the centre of attention but it was a team effort that landed Kilkenny’s first Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie title since 1994.
Downey was captain 22 years ago and having played in Kilkenny’s 12 successes at this level, accumulated in a 20-year period from 1974, remains an ever-present in the Noresiders’ winning history, as manager of the new champions.
There had been many devastating heartbreaks since legendary figure climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand to receive the O’Duffy Cup, as Kilkenny had fallen at the final hurdle on six occasions. She was boss when a team comprised largely of teenagers lost to Cork in 2009 and many of those were still there when she returned to the fold to finish the job at the beginning of this year.
They had fallen short in the 2013 and 2014 deciders in the interim, but with Conor Phelan and Paddy Mullally in situ as well, the brains trust behind WIT’s Ashbourne Cup success were ready to apply their winning formula.
They appeared to have struck the right balance in terms of positional switches, while the likes of WIT player Julie Ann Malone was introduced to the squad for the first time. With four points, the Mullinavat attacker repaid that faith and ended this game as Liberty Insurance Player of the Match.
Kilkenny played the wings as much as possible, although Gemma O’Connor still got in plenty of possession. Meanwhile, Denise Gaule had a free role that saw her having a very influential role. Crucially, Cork could never get their overlapping game going, with the likes of Katrina Mackey, Briege Corkery and Amy O’Connor less prominent than normal.
Added to all that were the lessons learned from previous disappointments, and the ravenous hunger to get over the line. Kilkenny looked composed throughout and with the defence on top, Gaule unerring from placed balls and Malone on fire, they always held the upper hand.
A 42nd minute goal from Shelly Farrell – one of three sisters lining out for Kilkenny – gave Cork a mountain to climb and they never looked like reeling in the deficit.
They weren’t helped as Gemma O’Connor was sent off in the 53rd minute having been shown a second yellow card but typical of a team that has won the last two titles, they kept trying right to the end.
Emma Kavanagh had to make a very smart save from Eimear O’Sullivan on the hour and Orla Cotter drove a powerful shot beyond her from a free in the third minute of injury time but Kilkenny were able to see it out comfortably to complete a famous double, having bagged the Intermediate crown earlier.
They sealed another double too, as they harnessed the National League title in May, so there can be no argument about their status as the nation’s premier outfit this season.
As expected, team lists were of statistical interest only, with both outfits rotating regularly in a bid to create some element of space.
SCORERS: KILKENNY: D Gaule 0-7(fs); J A Malone 0-4; S Farrell 1-0; M Farrell, K Power 0-1 each CORK: O Cotter 1-2 (1-1fs); K Mackey 0-1; A Murray (pen), A Thompson, H Looney, E O’Sullivan, L Coppinger 0-1 each
KILKENNY: E Kavanagh, D Tobin, E Keane, J Frisby, C Dormer, A Dalton, C Phelan, A Farrell, M Farrell, S Farrell, D Gaule, J A Malone, M Quilty, K Power, M Walsh. Subs: K A Doyle for A Farrell (59), A Dunphy for Power (60+2)
CORK: A Murray, L O’Sullivan, R Buckley, L Treacy, M Cahalane, G O’Connor, P Mackey, O Cotter, A Thompson, E O’Sullivan, H Looney, K Mackey, A O’Connor, O Cronin, B Corkery. Subs: L Coppinger for L O’Sullivan (48), J Hosford for Cronin (57)
Ladies GAA: An Anne Dalton goal in the first half of extra time proved the difference as Kilkenny just edged past Galway on a dramafilled day of camogie.