'The off the field stuff was very tough...It just seemed that everything was going wrong'

Brian Dowling hailed Kilkenny’s team spirit in face of adversity this season.

Kilkenny players celebrate after the game.
Kilkenny players celebrate after the game.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE HEART KILKENNY showed to pull a victory from the jaws of defeat was typical of this group in a season where they’ve endured their fair share of trials and tribulations. 

Having lost three straight All-Ireland camogie deciders from 2017-19, two titles in three years have now been annexed under Brian Dowling. 

But above all else, what pleased him most was the character they’ve shown in responding to several difficult setbacks this year.

Dowling lost his uncle Oliver Brennan in a house fire in March, two weeks after coach Tommy Shefflin tragically suffered the shock passing of his brother Paul. Other members of the panel lost family members too.

“It was tough, the off the field stuff was very tough,” said Dowling. “A lot happened in March and April, obviously Tommy’s brother, Paul, passed away. Then my own uncle passed away in a house fire. Aoife (Prendergast)’s granddad passed away.

“Ciara Phelan’s granddad passed away and everything just happened in a couple of weeks and then to have Kellyann Doyle’s and Aoife Doyle’s cruciates on top of that.”

The season-ending injuries to the Doyle sisters came after Kilkenny had already lost Colette Dormer, Davina Tobin (retired) and Meghan Farrell (travel).

“It just seemed that everything was going wrong,” said Dowling. “I don’t know, we just sort of galvanised some team spirit within the group and just a never say die attitude, stay going and stay going.

“I said it to the girls before the match, look….we said it on Friday night in the team meeting, look, the amount of things that were thrown at this group this year and here we are, still fighting, still in with a chance of winning an All-Ireland.

brian-dowling-with-his-kids Brian Dowling with his children. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

“I’m just so proud of them that they were able to get through all of that and whatever went on. We had new girls stepping up there today, the likes of Tiffanie Fitzgerald, went up and scored the first point of the game, she’s a corner-back, 19 years of age. That’s just incredible. That sums up the whole thing I suppose.”

Miriam Walsh was the best Kilkenny player on show, firing three points and winning numerous frees, including the crucial winner for Denise Gaule in 62nd minute. 

As they chased the game in the closing stages, Dowling pushed Katie Power closer to goal and released Walsh to the flank where she had a decisive impact.

We always want to keep Miriam close to the goal because she’s a goal threat all the time but we felt we had to bring her out. I actually said, ‘Look, she might win frees’ and that’s what she did.

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“Miriam is in the form of her life this year. She’s been unbelievable, she’s been so consistent for us. Delighted for her. The likes of Miriam Walsh, Denise Gaule, Claire Whelan, Grace Walsh, they’ve lost three finals in-a-row and were probably questioning where they’re going.

“But they don’t ever step back. If you heard Grace Walsh speaking in the dressing room the last couple of days it just puts the hairs standing on the back of your neck. It’s unbelievable.

“She couldn’t breathe coming in at half-time, she got a belt in her stomach. That girl just won’t back down from anything. I’ll just mention them all, there’s just so many characters there. Different ones stepped up at different times. That’s what it’s about.”

Reflecting on the tense finale, Dowling said: “Just so happy, just so relieved. Coming up the home stretch it looked like it was going to a replay but in fairness to these girls, they always find a way somehow. It’s not good for my heart but they got there in the end and we’re so happy to be All-Ireland champions.

“You have to believe, there’s no point in being out there if you don’t believe. I know the character that’s in these girls, we’ve been saying it all year, the girls are sick of me saying that we’re going to get a bit of luck somewhere along the way and we just have to be there to take it.

“We got it today and we know that. In the past maybe we didn’t but today we got the luck and Cork didn’t and that was the difference in the day.”

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien  / Reports from Croke Park

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