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'I practised penalties on Thursday evening and Jesus, I must have hit every one wide'

Denise Gaule scored Kilkenny’s decisive goal from a penalty in their All-Ireland final victory over Galway.

KILKENNY’S DENISE GAULE thought she’d be crying at full-time.

denise-gaule-scores-a-goal Denise Gaule scoring a penalty for Kilkenny. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Surreal was the word that came to mind when asked for a summary of her feelings after an All-Ireland final in which she pocketed 1-6 to help her side to victory.

These trips to Croke Park don’t always end well for Kilkenny, particularly in recent years. This time, against the defending champions Galway, they ended up on the winning side of the scoreline. 

Kilkenny created goal chances in both halves and had one goal on the scoreboard at full-time. 

Aoife Doyle, who finished with 0-4 in a Player of the Match display, had two opportunities either side of half-time.

Mary O’Connell was also presented with a chance, but fumbled the ball when she was one-on-one with the Galway goalkeeper Sarah Healy.

With just three minutes of normal time left, Gaule won a penalty for Brian Dowling’s team. The teams were level at the time, but Gaule’s shot into the bottom corner gave Kilkenny their only goal of the night. And it ultimately proved to be the decisive score.

I practised them there Thursday evening and Jesus, I must have hit every one wide,” she tells the media after Kilkenny’s 1-14 to 1-11 win, trying desperately to retain some warmth from the chill in the air.

“I’d say [Kilkenny goalkeeper] Aoife Norris was nervy enough when I was stepping up. I was nearly back at the ’45, I was so afraid to step over the line.

“I probably had a few yards to spare on it. It happened before in the league against Clare because I stood over the line when I took the penalty and it wasn’t allowed. I made sure I suppose but it was a bit hit and hope I suppose.”

kilkenny-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Euphoria as the Kilkenny players celebrate their All-Ireland victory. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Responding to inquiries about her impressive tally and the five frees she banked for the Cats, she says:

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“I probably missed the easiest one of them all, I’ll try and forget about that. It was brilliant to see all the younger girls, the likes of Aoife Doyle and Katie Nolan [and] Mary [O'Connell] stepping up and showing what they’re about as well. You don’t really mind how you play once you win at the end of the day.”

Kilkenny’s losing record in All-Ireland finals was put under the spotlight coming into this All-Ireland final. Of the six previous finals they had reached since 2013, Kilkenny had only one once in 2016.

They were facing a potential fourth All-Ireland final defeat in-a-row this time around against Galway. It was leading many to doubt whether Kilkenny had the mental fortitude to get over the line.

“I think this year especially,” says Gaule about the question marks being placed over the Cats in 2020.

We seemed to be written off in everything, so it’s probably a bit extra sweet in a way. I think that was the relief after the Cork match, especially. Everyone thought Kilkenny were dead and buried and we were missing a few players.

“It took the girls tonight to step up, and it just shows that the panel is there in Kilkenny. Everyone was raving about the Galway subs and the Galway panel, but our girls showed up tonight.”

The post-match celebrations were an unusual sight on Saturday night. With no spectators in the stands or family members waiting for them at the foot of the steps, the Kilkenny squad only had each other to share the moment.

The fact that the final was even being staged at night-time in December was a bizarre starting point for the game. An abnormal conclusion for a championship that has been anything but normal.

“I was on Facetime to my mother and father there and sister at home,” says Gaule. “They’re delighted.

“Can’t wait to get home now and celebrate it with them. The support they give us all year in Kilkenny is brilliant, so it’s just weird with no supporters but it’s ourselves up here so happy enough as well.

“It’s unreal. I thought I’d be crying after winning but it’s a bit surreal now. It is a bit of relief to finally get over the line, I suppose in a close match. There’s no better team than Galway to bring it to the edge but just delighted.”

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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