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'She didn't get a result until half-way through the match' - Kilkenny boss hoping for Covid-free 2022
Brian Dowling’s reappointment for a third season in charge was confirmed on Tuesday night.

KILKENNY CAMOGIE BOSS Brian Dowling says he would have struggled with regrets if he decided to hand in his badge after their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Cork.

brian-dowling Bryan Keane / INPHO Kilkenny camogie manager Brian Dowling. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

The Cats relinquished their All-Ireland title after that one-point loss in August, with Galway going on to lift the O’Duffy Cup in the decider.

It was a particularly disappointing end to Kilkenny’s season having already secured the Division 1 crown in the summer. That was the second piece of silverware they had delivered under Dowling who was previously appointed as manager in October 2019, replacing the legendary Ann Downey.

Dowling experienced a brief hit of soul-searching after that loss to Cork, believing for a short while that perhaps it was his time to go. But he quickly reversed from those doubts and has committed to another season on the sideline.

“As the couple of weeks went on, I felt that I’d have regrets if I walked away now,” Dowling tells The42 following news of his reappointment on Tuesday night.

“It’s a great bunch of girls and I love it so why would you walk away from something that you love doing. The backroom team wanted to stay as well. I was talking to a few players to see if they were going to be involved next year and they seemed fairly keen on going back.

“So, I suppose it was a fairly easy decision in the end with the way we lost. The last two years I’ve been involved have been Covid-related as well which has been difficult so it’d be nice to go back and just have a proper year with the girls, and proper training with less Covid restrictions.”

Reflecting on Kilkenny’s 2021 season, Dowling feels that his side was “clawing back in a lot of games,” and “didn’t set the world alight” in the group stages of the championship where they picked up wins against Clare and Westmeath.

They also faced Galway in a repeat of the league final where they fell narrowly short. Against Cork, they were two points ahead with eight minutes to go, only to be derailed in the concluding stages.

Dowling believes their All-Ireland quarter-final win over Wexford was their best performance, where a surprise inclusion in the Kilkenny matchday squad dominated much of the pre-match talk.

Two-time All-Ireland winner Anne Dalton was named as the sub-keeper, replacing the injured Emma Kavanagh. Dalton, who is one of the greatest players of her generation, had retired from inter-county camogie back in January. But she didn’t decline when Kilkenny called her in for a favour.

“Emma got a very bad injury in training,” Dowling explains “and was after winning her place back. Herself and Aoife Norris have a great battle for the goalkeeping spot. Aoife had it last year but she missed a game because she was a close contact.

“The intermediates were going really well and we were conscious not to take someone off them. So, we just thrashed out a few things and one of the selectors Ray Challoner mentioned Anne Dalton coming in. You have to be confident playing in goals, and Anne would definitely be confident. She has the experience and she’s well able to hurl.

“We gave her a call and she was more than happy to come in. She had her terms and conditions coming that she was there for goalkeeping and that was it.”

Dowling continued by saying that some people questioned why he didn’t avail of Dalton’s services when the game was tight against Cork, but he felt it would have been disloyal to the rest of his squad.

“I had people asking me [after losing to Cork], why didn’t I bring her on for the last 10 minutes. Anne hadn’t played any outfield hurling since last December in the All-Ireland final. She’s retired from the club as well.

“And you have to be fair to the players that are there. What kind of manager would I be if I brought on a player in the All-Ireland semi-final who hasn’t been training all year. I don’t think the players behind me in Croke Park would be too happy, and rightly so. They’re putting in the effort all year and you have to be fair to them.

And I think Anne would have ran out to the Hogan Stand if I called her on. It was never going to happen and it wouldn’t be the right thing to do.”

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Going into his third season as manager, Dowling’s mainly goal is obviously to get Kilkenny back to the summit of camogie. But he is also hoping that the presence of Covid-19 will lessen going forward.

His squad was rattled by the virus at various times this year, including one occasion where some of his players received the result of a Covid test midway through a championship game.

“It was the first group game against Clare and we called out the team on a Thursday night, and we thought that was our team. And then one of our players had symptoms so they had to get tested and Aoife [Norris] just happened to be a close contact, and another girl on the panel as well.

They got tested on the Friday and the match was on Saturday at 2 o’clock. So, we didn’t get a result until half-way through the match. One of the girls who was feeling sick didn’t travel but the other two did. They were waiting in their separate cars outside the pitch and came in with five minutes gone in the second half.

“It was a very strange situation what happened. The girl got the message to say she was negative so the girls were no longer deemed close contacts and were no longer a risk to anybody so they were allowed into the pitch. One girl actually came on for the last 15 minutes so it was a very surreal experience.

“Their families drove down in separate cars so it was a bit crazy.

“For the Westmeath game, I think we had three players who tested positive. And then we weren’t allowed train as a group on the Tuesday before the Galway game either. You’re ready to go training and then you can’t. It turned out everyone was actually ok, but you can’t take the risk.

“Hopefully with the vaccinations, we won’t be seeing that again.”

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