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'They're fighters, they want to win and be the best. You feed off that'

Cats star Anne Dalton on Kilkenny Camogie and the surprises that could come in the 2019 championship.

Kilkenny star Anne Dalton.
Kilkenny star Anne Dalton.
Image: Tom Beary/INPHO

THERE WAS A brilliant clip of Kilkenny’s two ADs on TG4′s ‘Mná Spóirt: Croí is Anam’ a few weeks ago.

Over the past few years, depending on whether the Cats opt to play defensively or offensively, Anne Dalton’s position has been of optimum importance. She’s been switched between centre-half back, midfield and centre-half forward; but always finds herself in the most key position on the pitch. She’s the heartbeat of the team.

You want to be a centre-forward… WHAT were you doing up there — do you want to go back centre-back?

The question from their brilliant manager Ann Downey brings a cheeky grin to Dalton’s face and a few chuckles from the wider group.

“We were playing Slaughtneil and she was giving out to me,” Dalton laughs when she’s reminded about the duo’s lighthearted clash which was caught on camera.

Ann’s a fighter and she’s a winner. She wants to win. That was a challenge match. The thing is what she was saying was 100% right. That’s why I laughed. If I think you’re wrong, I’ll argue with you. If I kind of laugh, I’m like, ‘Fair enough’.

Downey is synonymous with Kilkenny Camogie after winning 12 All-Ireland senior medals as a player, while she oversaw a 22-year wait for O’Duffy Cup glory from the helm in 2016. Their last title before that came in 1994 when she was captain.

Her backroom team includes Liam Egan and the newly-introduced Ray Chandler and Brian Dowling, while her twin sister Angela and Breda Holmes — two Kilkenny more Camogie legends — also help out, and are always mentioned by players.

“Angela is involved in the dressing room, Breda Holmes as well; they’re fighters,” Dalton adds. “You feed off that.

It’s great to have them involved in Kilkenny Camogie. They just want to improve Kilkenny Camogie, they want to win, they want Kilkenny Camogie to be the best. To have those kind of personalities in the dressing room is massive.

Dalton was in conversation with The42 last month, reflecting on their Division 1 National League campaign and looking forward to the big one, the All-Ireland senior championship.

Of course, they have a 100% record thus far this summer after Group 1 opening wins over their league final conquerors Galway and struggling Wexford.

Their trip to the West saw them exact revenge on the Tribeswomen with a 1-13 to 0-14 win, albeit a fortunate goal proving the difference at the death. Beforehand, Dalton was looking to gauge where her side were at, what they were made of and had a big question to be answered: can we compete this year?

A 7-28 to 0-6 hammering of Wexford followed but not much can be taken from that considering the difficult period the Model county are enduring at the minute. Offaly are up next today at Nowlan Park [throw-in 5pm], while they close the round-robin stage against Limerick. 

In Group 2, their arch rivals Cork are motoring along nicely, and have clocked up hefty wins over Clare and Tipperary. The top two have faced off in the last three All-Ireland finals with the Rebels winning in 2017 and 2018 while until this year, they shared similar dominance in the league.

Lorraine Ryan and Anne Marie Starr celebrate Galway players celebrate. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But Galway came out on top in the Croke Park showpiece to end Kilkenny’s four in-a-row hopes, and while to many on the outside it may have been a shock that it wan’t another Kilkenny or Cork win, those following the camogie closely would not have been surprised.

“After we walked off the pitch we would have felt that we didn’t perform — and maybe we didn’t,” Dalton admits first, “but all credit to Galway. They had a great game.

“They seem to have a great set-up in there this year. They’re fit, they’re strong and they’re using the ball really well. They’re a force to be reckoned with this year, absolutely.

To me, that All-Ireland is probably a toss-up between Cork and Galway this year. Do I think we don’t have a chance? Of course we have a chance. But going by what we played with Cork in the [league] semi-final and Galway in the final, they are two very, very strong teams.

“I think both of them are ahead of the pack at the moment, and I know that’s going to sound ridiculous when we bet Cork in the semi-final but I think Cork play the championship differently to how they play every other competition.

“Yeah, Galway look like they’ve definitely built on last year. You wouldn’t want to take anything for granted playing them again.”

They didn’t last time out and while Kilkenny triumphed on that occasion, Dalton would more than likely still stand by what she said a few weeks ago.

As aforementioned, there is this idea that there’s the top two and the rest in camogie with Cork and Kilkenny tussling time and time again over the past few years. But in reality, any game could go any way on any given day. Galway, in particular, are right on their tails.

Anne Dalton Anne Dalton at the Kinetica Sports and Rowing Ireland Sponsorship Announcement. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“That perception is there but if you actually look at the results, Galway have always been there or thereabouts,” Dalton assures as she casts her mind back to All-Ireland semi-finals over the past few years.

“In 2016, they brought us to extra time, they lost by two points. The next year I think Cork only bet them by two or three points, we only bet them by three points last year.

“They’ve actually always been there or thereabouts. This year they seem to have taken an extra step, there seems to be a bit of a bite in them. They’ll be a force to be reckoned with this summer I reckon.”

She’d much rather focus on the present and the future, the championship at hand, but it’s always interesting to hear Kilkenny players talking about bouncing back after two of the most dramatic, late and painful one-point All-Ireland final defeats to Cork the past two Septembers.

Absolutely heartbreaking circumstances on both occasions, how do they rally to go again?

“It’s tough going,” Dalton frowns. “What I’d find myself is when I wake up the next morning, I just want to go back into training to fix things.

It’s that lull of two to three months before you start training together as a group where you feel a bit lost because you can’t fix anything. It’s tough to build yourself back up to start into hard training. That’s one side of it, but the other side of it is you just want to get going again. 

“It feels that once the year starts, it’s a clean slate. You’re like, ‘Right, now it’s about 2019. Forget about the last two years, forget about the last 10 years. It does not matter. 2019 is the only All-Ireland that’s going to be won in the next nine months’.

Sarah Dervan and Ann Dalton Dalton consoling Galway's Sarah Dervan after the 2018 semi-final. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I suppose that’s kind of the way you have to look at it. It is tough. We do have to look at it from our point of view, from Kilkenny’s point of view.”

It’s all about learning from the past. Often, one learns more in defeat than they do in victory.

“If we get into that situation again in any game… It doesn’t matter if it’s a challenge match, if it’s an All-Ireland, if it’s the first round of championship; you can’t let your team be put in a situation where a ref’s decision can win or lose the game on you. 

“That’s it, that’s our ownership. While we lost by a point and some people might call the free questionable, we have to take some ownership and responsibility — probably a lot of ownership and responsibility — and say, ‘You know what, we had a really bad first 15-20 minutes’. They went 5-1 up or something like that.

“We let that happen — we can’t let it happen again. That’s where you learn from your mistakes.

If we walked off that pitch and said, ‘The only reason we lost was because the ref gave that last free. Forget about the other 64 minutes, it was that 30 seconds that lost us the game’ — well we would have learned nothing, and we’d be at nothing playing camogie this year. We wouldn’t win, we wouldn’t compete. We have to take some ownership and responsibility as well.

Surely, it’s easier to come back and go again when the times are good. 2016, those memories are absolutely golden. But Downe would rather reflect on that in a few years time. 

Edwina Keane and Ann Dalton celebrate at the final whistle Celebrating at the final whistle in 2016. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We’ll worry about it when we retire and think about those memories then,” she grins. 

It’s all about the present as of now. It’s a clean slate, as she said. The five-time All-Star winner is continuing to master it all, both on and off the pitch. It’s all go after the arrival of her and her partner Karen’s son Tadhg last year. 

And as the conversation wraps up, the last word goes to the man himself, of course.

“He’s great,” the beaming mother concludes. “He’s just flying it at the minute. We’re just lucky to have a baby that sleeps through the night! It’s fun times.

“He absolutely keeps us on our toes, he’s spoilt rotten. He gets everything he wants. He absolutely is the boss.”

And Downey, more than anyone, knows the place of the boss considering that video clip of the clash of the two ADs.

Kilkenny star Anne Dalton was on hand to announce Kinetica Sports Nutrition’s headline sponsorship of Rowing Ireland recently.

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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