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Analysis: Kilkenny's midfield masterclass proves central to Galway's All-Ireland glory

Niamh Kilkenny’s impact was key as Galway celebrated All-Ireland camogie success.

AS A CLOSING act it seemed fitting, the run of scoring on All-Ireland final day completed by the player who had enjoyed the most pronounced influence on the overall game.

When Niamh Kilkenny flighted over a point in the 63rd minute yesterday in Croke Park, it pushed Galway six clear. The deal was sealed, opponents Kilkenny seeing their hopes extinguished despite a second-half fightback that had brought them within two at one stage.

The destination of the camogie success and silverware was confirmed moments later by the final whistle and if it was savoured by Galway due to the high standards on show in an occasion that has disappointed in recent years, the satisfaction was also heightened by the crushing wave of setbacks they have suffered of late.

Galway ended a 17-year barren spell when collecting the O’Duffy Cup in 2013 but despite being regular fixtures in the closing stages thereafter, another breakthrough proved difficult to make. They lost to Cork in the 2015 final and 2017 semi-final while the other three campaigns witnessed last four defeats at the hands of Kilkenny.

Throw in another trio of final reversals since she made her debut in 2006 and the Pearses club player had suffered enough heartbreak to enjoy this one.

“We lost in ’08, ’10, ’11 and ’15 so I could write a book on losing All-Ireland finals,” she laughed afterwards.

“Just absolutely delighted. It’s just the work that everyone has put in. The management team that was put together last year, they really gave us everything. Just the professionalism and it showed today.”

Kilkenny grabbed the last score of a match where she had been consistently a dominant force throughout.

NKilkenny Source: The42

The tone was set inside the opening 90 seconds when she cut through the defence and released a handpass that enabled Ailish O’Reilly to crash home Galway’s opening goal.

The same combination yielded the same dividend in the 25th minute, Kilkenny sidestepping in a crowd before deftly lobbing a pass through for O’Reilly to collect, race forward and fire in a third Galway goal.

Those two assists were key but her scoring contribution was just as critical. She finished with 0-4 from play, Kilkenny’s Denise Gaule was the only other player on the pitch to raise more than one white flag as she notched a brace.

The tally was reflective of a year where Kilkenny’s scoring input was a valuable weapon from midfield for Galway. She weighed in with a pair of points apiece in last March’s league final and August’s All-Ireland quarter-final meeting with Waterford. The 0-3 haul in the semi-final against Cork was surpassed by yesterday’s 0-4 return.

In five previous All-Ireland final appearances, Kilkenny’s aggregate scoring total was 0-1 courtesy of an effort against Wexford in 2011. There is a caveat in that she was wing-back for two of those deciders but the added threat in front of goal this year notably enhanced Galway’s credentials.

Aside from the attacking incisions, Kilkenny dovetailed well with midfield colleague Aoife Donohue to establish a platform of dominance around the middle third. She had 25 possessions in an all-action display, 15 in the first half alone. Her shooting in that period saw one shot converted from four but she nailed all three of her attempts on goal in the second half.

Those were important moments after a third quarter where Galway’s advantage came under serious pressure with Ann Downey’s side hitting their stride. Kilkenny’s 45th minute point was a relieving one for Galway as it propelled them 3-9 to 0-14 clear.

niamh-kilkenny Niamh Kilkenny in action for Galway yesterday. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Then after being shown a yellow card in the 53rd minute for a foul on opponent Anna Farrell, Kilkenny won the break from the resultant placed ball deep in the Galway defence and won a free out. The next passage of play saw her arrow a delivery to team-mate Catherine Finnerty, surge forward to join the attack and was on hand to gather a lay-off from Carrie Dolan before registering the score that pushed Galway into a 3-12 to 0-17 lead. The fourth score arrived with that shot off her left-hand side into the Davin End late on.

Galway were soon celebrating the third All-Ireland camogie crown in the county’s history. Kilkenny received the player of the match award last night, matching the honour she secured after the semi-final against Cork. 

An individual midfield masterclass proved pivotal to Galway’s day of deliverance after seasons of falling short.

With the warm-up games out of the way, Murray, Bernard and Gavan discuss the renewed cause for optimism, impressive individual player form, and a potential quarter-final versus either South Africa or New Zealand.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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