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Dublin: 16 °C Friday 19 April, 2019
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Sister Act! Farrells to the fore as Kilkenny eye back-to-back double

The reigning champions, captained by Anna Farrell, face Waterford in their All-Ireland championship opener tomorrow.

2016 WAS A year to remember for Kilkenny camogie.

Anna Farrell Anna Farrell. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In September, they finally bridged a 22-year gap as the senior All-Ireland title headed Noreside to join the league crown they had scooped earlier in the year. The All-Ireland drought was finally ended.

From 1974 and for the 20 years that followed, the Cats won 12 All-Ireland titles. 1994 was to be their last for a long period, as they suffered heartbreak after heartbreak and slipped under the radar.

In the meantime, the men took centre stage as the Brian Cody era entered full force.

Their female counterparts were still there or thereabouts, but their lack of silverware meant that all of the attention and focus was geared towards the men.

But 2016 brought change.

Their last All-Ireland winning captain (until then), Ann Downey, took the reins, and with her came a serious sense of belief and pride. And the end of the drought. Both the league and championship titles returned to the south-east.

Same again this year?

“Going for the double again hopefully yeah,” captain Anna Farrell smiles. She’s laughing as she says it, but she means it.

They’re already halfway there in terms of repeating the feat. Three quarters of the double-double is complete.

Farrell’s side made a statement of intent with their league final win over Cork at the end of April. Missing key players, and with a completely different-look team to the one that started in Croke Park last September, they retained their crown in style with a three-point win.

Anna Farrell scores a goal Farrell in action. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

They then tagged on a Leinster title two weeks ago with a gritty one-point win over Offaly. With 62 minutes on the clock, Kilkenny equalised and Denise Gaule converted a 45 in the dying seconds to seal the deal.

“We absolutely robbed Offaly,” Farrell continues. “They had us bet until the last minute of the game. That just shows that every team is in it. There’s nothing between them.

“When people talk about Kilkenny and Cork as the main ones, there’s so many other teams there — Galway, Offaly, Limerick, the rest of them.

 ”We’re buzzing now to get going for championship. We had such a good year last year that hopefully it will carry on again now into this year as well.”

“Hopefully it’ll be like last year. Really good games throughout and then the best two teams meet in the All-Ireland again.”

Farrell actually missed the successful league campaign this year with a shoulder injury, but she’s back to full fitness and ‘ready to go’ now.

She wasn’t the only one to be sidelined — her sister, Shelly, among others also missed out on the action.

“She [Shelly] was only coming back and hurt herself again so she’s resting up really until we hit championship level. There’s no need to come back yet, there’s plenty of time to get your spot in.

“There’s absolutely brilliant young girls after coming in from the intermediate team last year — the girls won the All-Ireland, and a few new girls in. They had to take spots and anyone who played in the league showed how good they are.

Meighan Farrell lifts the Division 1 trophy Meighan Farrell lifts the Division 1 league trophy. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It just made it even harder now for the few of us to come back and try and win our spots back.

“The league is like a stepping stone. You get to test yourself out against the other good teams. You get to see whereabouts you are and what you need to work on.

“Then when championship comes around, it’s like going from 60 to 100% within a week or two. It is such a difference but at least you kind of know whereabouts you are once you’ve handled the league.

“You get a bit of confidence from winning that. You don’t have no fear then for championship when you do come up against the same teams.

While Anna and Shelly were away from the field of play, their younger sister Meighan captained the side to glory. 17-year-old Eimear is in with the minors, and she’s been asked into the senior set-up to ‘make up numbers at training’.

“We’re still going anyway,” Farrell grins when asked of the family involvement. “Meg is flying the flag for us. Hopefully now, the three of us will be lining out the next day, please God.

“Eimear is a great little hurler but she just needs another year or two to get stronger. Our poor mother will have too much gear to wash,” she laughs.

Like for most other families in Kilkenny, camogie and hurling is almost religion in the Farrell household. Their father, Martin, and mother, Helen, are both heavily involved in the Thomastown club scene, both in coaching and administration.

The only boy in the family, Jonjo, is a two-time All-Ireland winner with the Kilkenny hurling side and has made a notable impact of late.

Growing up, Farrell and her siblings dabbled in any sport they could, but it always came back to their one true love.

Shelly Farrell Another of Farrell's sisters, Shelly, in action. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We played everything, anything that we could. We have a few All-Irelands there with volleyball and played football, not much soccer now — my Dad doesn’t really like that one,” she laughs.

“Ah no, but it’s always been camogie. It’s always been the love anyway. It’s the one that you’ve always looked at.

“We didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter. Mam and Dad are hurling and camogie mad. They’ve always trained us. They’ve always pushed us more than everyone else.

“That’s why we are where we are really, that we’re hurling with Kilkenny – the three of us [Anna, Shelly and Meighan]. Because they pushed us so hard. That’s how we started off with our love of camogie, through them, and they wouldn’t miss a match ever.

“Everyone in Kilkenny, there’s such emphasis on hurling really. You always have a hurl in your hand. There’s no escaping it really.

Continuing on from the life centered on camogie conversation, Farrell speaks of Ann Downey’s remarkable influence on the Cats.

Pivotal as a midfielder in 12 All-Ireland camogie successes, as well as winning nine league medals and three Player of the Year awards, she’d done more than enough for her county.

But Downey felt that she had more to give. She returned, this time to the helm, towards the latter end of the 2000s. She came back to take charge for the 2016 campagin, and she shaped and moulded the team into the machine they are today, as well as leading them to regain their place at the top.

“She’s an unbelievable woman,” Farrell continues. “Her whole life is camogie. Her love for it — you can see it in everything she does.

“She’s so passionate about it. It just makes you want to win more, when someone loves it that much and would do anything for ye to win it. It just drives us on even more.

Calling the shots alongside her is her twin sister Angela, and Breda Holmes — two more legendary Kilkenny camogie figures.

Emma Hannon Roche and Anna Farrell Farrell and Waterford 's Emma Hannon Roche at the Liberty Insurance Senior Camogie Championship Launch. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We’re surrounded by All-Ireland winners. Then we have the men there as well helping us out — physios, doctors.

“We can’t complain. We absolutely have everyone there to help us and they all wanted us just as much as we did last year. Hopefully this year again, we can be half as successful as we were.”

First up on the road to Croke Park is Waterford tomorrow, and it’s a challenge Farrell is relishing.

They’ve clashed in the league already this year — Kilkenny coming out 2-12 to 0-14 winners, but the Thomastown clubwoman again stresses the gap between league and championship.

“There’s a complete difference between league and championship. They are a great team, they have a few great hurlers on it as well.

“Hopefully it’ll be a great game and we’ll come up on top anyway.”

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