BY NIALL SHERRY, SPORTS EDITOR
Provincial crown retained, but improvement needed
Leinster Senior Camogie Final
UPMC Nowlan Park
Kilkenny retained their provincial crown with victory over Dublin at UPMC Nowlan Park last weekend. Many had expected Brian Dowling’s side to have too much quality for their opponents, but this is a game that could have gone either way. The sides were level at the interval, and no doubt the stripeywomen would have been told a few home truths in the changing rooms at half time.
The first half was rather scrappy, with both sides coughing up possession and being let down by lapses in concentration and some poor handling. Referee Justin Heffernan got the final under way and the home side registered the first score of the game after just 33 seconds. The ball was worked to Kellyann Doyle who had made a clever run forward from her midfield berth and the Piltown woman made no mistake in splitting the posts.
Denise Gaule then pointed from the placed ball after Katie Power was fouled in the fourth minute. Another foul, this time on Julieann Malone provided an opportunity for Aoife Prendergast to get on the score sheet, but the Dicksboro player just pulled her effort wide of the posts. A couple of minutes later, Laura Murphy burst forward and was halted illegally and Prendergast made no mistake from the resulting free as she fired her team into a three point to nil lead after 7 minutes of action.
The next score would also come from the home side. Mullinavat’s Julieann Malone then showed some nice stick work before popping over a fine point as the reigning champions looked in complete control of affairs.
Dublin did get on the scoreboard eventually, and it a one of the scores of the game, with Aisling O’Neill rifling over a superb effort from close to the left sideline. Another Aisling, this time Gannon, beat Tullaroan’s Grace Walsh before firing over to reduce the deficit to two points. Piltown’s Katie Power was then fouled again, and Aoife Prendergast fired over the placed ball.
Aisling Gannon was then fouled and captain Maher slotted the free as they fought to stay close to their illustrious opponents. Maher got another opportunity to reduce the deficit to the bare minimum when Julieann Malone was adjudged to have over carried and she didn’t miss.
One of Dublin’s liveliest players, Aisling O’Neill then fired over another lovely point to bring the sides level at 5 points apiece. Brian Dowling’s charges were guilty of being sloppy in possession and making uncharacteristic errors as they struggled to regain the control of a game that was in danger of providing a big upset.
The sides swapped the next two points, first up was Dicksboro’s Aoife Prendergast who pointed from a tight angle, while Aisling Maher sent over a long range free after Katie Power was booked for a heavy challenge. Another of the Piltown contingent, Aoife Doyle then got on the score sheet, pointing from close range but there was still time for Aisling Maher to deadlock matters with another point before the short whistle as the sides headed to the changing rooms with 7 points each.
Gerry McQuaid’s charges kept Kilkenny waiting on the pitch before the second period began, and it would be the visitors who got off the mark first after the interval with a nice point from Grace O’Shea. Last year’s captain Aoife Prendergast was then fouled and Windgap’s Denise Gaule showed her class by pointing from out on the left.
Brian Dowling then sent on Dicksboro duo Asha McHardy and Jenny Clifford then replaced Katie Power and Aoife Prendergast as he sought to freshen things up. Mullinavat’s Julieann Malone then scored a lovely point from play to edge her side ahead, before a brace of free’s from St Martin’s Katie Nolan to push the home team 3 clear with about 12 minutes remaining in the provincial decider.
Dublin like earlier in the contest refused to lie down and hit the next three scores in game. The first of this trio of scores came from wing-forward Elyse Jamieson-Murphy with a fantastic point. Some lovely skill and team play from the visitors resulted in the dangerous Aisling O’Neill firing over, before the same player dispossessed Grace Walsh before splitting the posts to level matters.
The atmosphere got even more tense; the Dublin management team sensed that the game was there for the taking, while their Kilkenny counterparts appeared worried at their sides inability to put the game to bed when leading by 3 points.
Katie Nolan was then given the chance to give her side the lead from the placed ball, but her effort struck the far post. Kilkenny players reacted more quickly, and one of the second half subs, Asha McHardy collected the sliotar before firing over edge the stripeywomen ahead.
The next score would prove crucial and ultimately be the winning of a very tough game. Kilkenny were awarded a free on half way and the experienced Denise Gaule stood over it. The Windgap player sent in a searching and testing ball around the edge of the square. Julieann Malone rose along with two Dublin players, won the ball turned and went to strike for goal. The keeper came to meet her, the sliotar hit came loose but the Mullinavat woman reacted and struck the ball to the net.
Kilkenny now had a four-point lead, this soon became five when Young Ireland’s Steffi Fitzgerald pointed shortly after the raising of the green flag. Dublin needed a goal, and quickly. They struck a couple of low efforts towards Aoife Norris’s goal, but they were off target. Aisling Maher did strike over another free, but time was up and a collective sigh of relief could be felt by the home contingent as the long whistle sounded. Provincial title defended. Now for the All-Ireland series. Final score, Kilkenny 1-14, Dublin 0-13.