BY NIALL SHERRY
When Mike Wall was appointed as Kilkenny minor camogie manager in December of last year for the second time, hopes were high and the feeling was that the experienced bainisteoir could end the six-year wait for the All-Ireland minor title.
Wall’s backroom team consisted of coach Damien Donohue and selectors Paula and Mary Murphy. Their first task was assembling a panel of players to challenge the country’s finest minor camogs. A difficult task at the best of times, but navigating through the challenges of COVID-19 made the process especially problematic.
In his first interview following his appointment, Wall was clear on the road ahead. “Our first objective is to run trials and to get a panel together for the upcoming season”. Having guided the young cats to their last All-Ireland crown in 2015, the next question was answered with typical vigor. Wall said: “Hopefully we can win it again. It would be great and it’s our aim.”
When the minor panel was announced in May this year, there was definitely as sense of optimism in Kilkenny. However, the optimism had to be put on the back-burner, as the first championship fixture for Wall’s new panel was scheduled for August.
All square in Déise clash
Wall and his charges headed to neighbours Waterford to begin their quest for the title. The WIT arena was the setting for a game that end in a share of the spoils, not the win the manager would have hoped for. The game started brilliantly for the young stripey-women with the first of two green flags raised after just 45 seconds of play, Dicksboro forward Asha McHardy striking home. Over the course of the first half, both sides were guilty of some wasteful shooting, but this was probably down to a little bit of rustiness, given the lack of competitive action in 2021.
The second half was only some six-minutes old when Kilkenny breached the Waterford net for a second time. Some great play from Asha McHardy and Laoise Nolan find Clara’s Emma Shortall, who raised away towards goal, before unleashing a thunderous shot that the Waterford keeper could only parry, only to see the on-rushing Sarah Barcoe strike the rebound to the back of the net. To their credit, Waterford rallied and then enjoyed their best spell of the game. When the final whistle sounded, the sides couldn’t be separated. The score line read; Kilkenny 2-11, Waterford 1-14.
Model victory takes cats to quarters
Next up for our minor’s was a home game with Wexford. Thomastown was the venue as Mike Wall’s side went in search of the much-needed win. There were some changes to the starting XV, largely as a result of a Covid outbreak in the camp, following the opening day draw with Waterford. The game started at a fast tempo, and the yellowbellies thought that they had taken a first minute lead when firing to the net, only for Cork whistler Andy Larkin to rule the effort out due to an earlier infringement.
Kilkenny would find the net a few minutes later, when a shot from Asha McHardy was parried by the Wexford keeper, however the cats recycled the sliotar, and Clara’s Shortall’s vicious shot hit the net. The cats would raise their second green flag of the day after just 12 minutes when joint captain and Young Ireland’s Sarah O’Donnell hit a high shot into the danger zone. James Stephens Emma Manogue claimed possession, turned towards goal and was then brought to the ground. Stonewall penalty. Dicksboro’s Amy Clifford stepped forward and made no mistake from the spot. This game was effectively over at half-time, with Kilkenny leading by 8 points.
The second half saw Sarah Barcoe add to her personal tally on her home turf. Despite Wexford hitting a goal, the cats kept the score board ticking over and never really looked in great danger of giving up their lead. Wexford would point a penalty, but the last score of the game would come in the 53rd minute. On the long whistle from referee Larkin, Kilkenny had run out convincing winners on a score line of 2-13 to 1-7. This victory sent Wall’s team to an All-Ireland quarter-final with the Treaty County.
No quarter given in Treaty rout
Fermoy was the next stop for the minor bus as the cats looked to secure a semi-final berth. The squad appeared to be in better health following the covid situation which had affected the build-up to the Wexford game. Kilkenny would romp to a 19-point win over Limerick, the black and amber showing unstoppable power and pace in their dismantling of the Shannonsiders.
You wouldn’t have known that our girls had been playing against a stiff breeze in the first half, as they again had the game in the bag on the short whistle. The forward class of Clifford, Barcoe and Shortall was simply too much to handle for the greens. Kilkenny took a 13-point lead into the interval following their ruthless opening period.
While Limerick attempted to close the gap during the second half, Mike Wall was never going to allow his young ladies to rest on their laurels. Half-way through the second period, the impressive Amy Clifford added to her ever-increasing tally, when she fired to the net. A late consolation goal from the opposition did little to bring respectability to the score board. final score Kilkenny 1-27, Limerick 1-8. With a personal haul of 1-14, Dicksboro’s Amy Clifford was undoubtably the brightest star on show.
Cats shine in extra time
The semi-final would take Kilkenny on the road to Abbottstown, where they faced-off against the ladies of the west, Galway. Two years previous, the sides had met at U16 level, and the tribeswomen had sauntered to a double-digit win over the cats. After the opening exchanges, our players must have feared that history was repeating itself, as Galway raced into a 6-point lead, 1-3 to no score before Emma Manogue hit a lovely individual score to open the Noresiders account. The westerners appeared to be in total control, with only Sarah Barcoe really troubling the opposition defence. At the first water break Kilkenny trailed by 5-points. The short break was clearly needed and Mike Wall’s words were certainly heeded by his troops as they began to compete during the second quarter. Both sides notched scores and our girls went into the half-time interval still trailing by five.
Further words of encouragement must have been echoing in our team’s ears, as they started the second-half with a much higher tempo and a greater desire. This was rewarded with a much-needed goal from substitute Claire Doheny. Galway responded with further points, and as the sides battled towards the second water break, a key moment, Thomastown’s Sarah Barcoe rifles to the net, to raise a second green flag for the cats.
Clifford was again proving her worth with a brace of points reducing the deficit to the minimum. Galway responded. Asha McHardy, now deployed at midfield, then hit a couple of nice scores to leave just one between the sides. The tribeswomen’s star player Gilchrist pointed along with one from Rabbitte to push the maroons three ahead. With time running out, Wall’s team gave one last push. A great ball into the lively Sarh Barcoe saw the forward get past her marker and rifle to the net. The sides were level. Extra-time would be required to settle this one.
Two minutes into extra-time, Kilkenny would take the lead for the first time in the game, the deadly Amy Clifford pointing from a free. Galway then rattled over scores to leave the score 1-23 to Kilkenny’s 3-16 at the interval in extra-time. The second period of additional time would see the cats out-score their opponents 0-5 to 0-2. Points from substitutes Sarah O’Donnell and Conahy Shamrocks Ellen Gunner along with the amazing Sarah Barcoe saw Mike Wall’s team over the line and secure a coveted All-Ireland final berth. Final score, Kilkenny 3-21, Galway 1-25. Take a bow Sarah Barcoe – 2-5. Semi-star!
Brilliant Barcoe blasts cats to final victory
All roads would lead to Limerick for the All-Ireland Final. LIT Gaelic Grounds the venue for the showdown between Kilkenny and old foes Cork. In advance of the game, manger Wall referenced the history between the sides and spoke of how special games between the counties are.
The game started at championship final pace, with both sides trading scores early on, Thomastown’s Barcoe and Clara’s Shortall registering early for the cats as the game settled down. As both teams wrestled for supremacy, a great ball into Sarah Barcoe saw the phenomenal forward control, turn and shoot – the result, a goal! Kilkenny took the lead, one which they would not relinquish. Barcoe’s strike appeared to breath extra confidence into the Kilkenny team, and they dominated their opponents in the second quarter, holding the rebels scoreless, while they kept the score board ticking over. Further points from yes, you guessed it, the brilliant Barcoe and a couple from Dicksboro’s Amy Clifford saw Mike Wall’s charges lead on a score line of 1-5 to 0-4 at the short whistle.
Cork made a couple of changes at the interval in a bid to change their fortunes, but it would be the Kilkenny defence, led superbly by Niamh Phelan and Aine Kirwan that ensured the cats lead remained intact. It would be James Stephen’s Emma Manogue that would hit the first score of the second period, but this appeared to be the catalyst for Cork to awake from their slumber. The rebels hit four points without reply, to leave just one between the sides. Sarah Barcoe pointed to relieve the pressure, but as the game entered its final period, the Síghle Nic an Ultaigh Cup was very much up for grabs.
The manager’s calming words during the second water break appeared to again do the job, as his side came out of the blocks with a real energy on resumption of play. Kilkenny actually registered 1-4 without reply in the first six minutes after the water break. Points from Asha McHardy, Amy Clifford, Emma Shortall and one from impressive substitute, Claire Doheny pulled the cats clear, as they sensed victory. The result was put beyond doubt when in the 52nd minute a sublime pass from Thomastown’s Barcoe found her Clara attacking partner Emma Shortall who made no mistake and raised her county’s second green flag of the day. Cork battled in vain to the end, but when referee Ray Kelly blew the final whistle, the minor stripey-women had one Kilkenny’s first All-Ireland minor title since 2015. A minor win of major significance.
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
The appointment of Mike Wall, I believe was hugely significant in building a minor panel capable of dining at the top table again. As the last manager to bring the title to Noreside, Wall was a smart choice when the appointments were being made.
Undoubtably Mike and his backroom team assembled a hungry and talented group of camogs. It may have taken a couple of games to find the right blend and positions for his players, but by God did they shine once all settled down.
I don’t think anyone would begrudge me for highlighting just a few of the panel for a little extra priase. We’ll start with Sarah Barcoe. Wow. What a talent. The scintillating Thomastown attacker, I believe, has the camogie world at her feet. Dicksboro duo Asha McHardy and Amy Clifford excelled also, the latter deadly accurate from play and vitally, the placed ball. In many ways she reminds me of a young Denise Gaule. Throw Clara’s Emma Shortall into the mix, and it’s a potent forward line. In defence, there was great discipline shown throughout the campaign. Niamh Phelan and Aine Kirwan just two of the stand-outs here. James Stephens clubwoman Emma Manogue found her way to midfield and put in stellar performances. The bench was crucial to the successful season, with St Brigids Claire Doheny impressing when called upon. The future’s bright – the future is black and amber.