BY NIALL SHERRY
PHOTOS BY INPHO
Camogie final could be epic
All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship Final
Kilkenny vs Cork
Croke Park, Sunday 7th August (Throw-in 4:15pm)
Referee: Ray Kelly (Kildare)
Kilkenny camog’s will seek to be re-united with the O’Duffy Cup tomorrow when they face-off against the ladies of Cork in the 2022 All-Ireland Senior Camogie Final at Croke Park.
Having last tasted success in December 2020, Brian Dowling’s charges are keen to add another title to their county’s role of honour, but know that this Cork side will not be easy pickings as they bid for O’Duffy Cup number 15.
Since that Christmas time win a couple of years ago, there has been lots of change within Dowling’s panel and the O’Loughlin’s man and his backroom team have done a fantastic job to keep Kilkenny involved at the business end of the season.
The loss of Collette Dormer and Davina Tobin to retirement, The Doyle sisters, Aoife and Kellyann to horrible cruciate injuries and Meighan Farrell’s time-out to travel would be crippled and blunted many teams, but not the stripey women. This panel has regrouped, re-focused and got stronger with every game as they look to reach the camogie ‘mecca’.
This season has seen the return of Julieann Malone, and the Mullinavat woman has slotted back into the black and amber jersey with ease. Malone’s skill and ability coupled with her experience and undoubted leadership within the group has been a real asset to this Kilkenny panel.
Malone has been central to a very fluid Cats attacking unit and as built a good chemistry with Denise Gaule, Katie Nolan, Mary O’Connell and Miriam Walsh. Tullaroan’s Walsh is in the form of her life and has produced some magnificent attacking displays this season. Her semi-final battle with Galway legend Sarah Dervan was a tremendous contest, two real warriors going toe-to-toe.
Cork would be right to fear this Kilkenny front 6 – they definitely possess the firepower necessary to blow any opposition away, and even if one element of the unit isn’t firing on all cylinders, others will step up and add their ammunition to the arsenal.
Like in any game placed ball’s will be crucial and in Denise Gaule, the Cats have one of the best in the business on their side. Last time out against the Tribeswomen, the Windgap player’s radar was a little out, a rare event indeed, but that’s when team mates step up, and in this case St Martins Katie Nolan. The diminutive sharpshooter took over the free taking and slotted a couple of vital opportunities to help push her side to that semi-final victory.
Gaule possesses so many more attributes than free taking. You will go a long way to find a player that works harder, covers more ground and tackles like her life depended upon it. Against Galway there were times when Denise was making a last-ditch tackle or block in front of her keeper Aoife Norris. I expect Gaule will once again put in a serious shift on Sunday in Croker. It will be required.
During the second half of the semi-final win over Galway, it appeared that Katie Power moved to a more attacking role at ‘11’ while Denise dropped back to a deeper roving role, we may see a similar pattern emerge when the battle with Cork develops.
The Cats defence will once again be tested at headquarters. Cork possesses some dangerous weapons in the attacking third, and in Amy O’Connor they have a lethal placed ball specialist. The St Vincents woman has hit an impressive 5-44 in the championship to date, and this tally will no doubt be boosted at the Jones’s Road venue on Sunday.
Keeping O’Connor company in the Rebel’s forward line will be the talented duo of Chloe Sigerson and Katrina Mackey. Brian Dowling’s defence will know all about these players, having faced them numerous times over the last few seasons. Providing another string to the Cork bow is Down native Sorcha McCartan. The daughter of All-Ireland football winner Greg, Sorcha had settled in with ease to the Rebel’s set-up and like those named above, will offer plenty of menace in attack.
The Stripey women will look to Grace Walsh, Michelle Teehan and Claire Phelan to lead the defence. Grace will be looking to go one better than her brother Padraig and the senior hurlers and bring the biggest prize back to Noreside. The more defensive minded of the Tullaroan Walsh’s in this side, Grace has been mostly deployed at the edge of the square this season. The Cats will need Grace and Co. to be on their toes from the start against the side that ended Kilkenny’s hopes last season. I’d imagine Aoife Norris would be happy with a quieter afternoon in Croker this weekend, but the Piltown stopper is there, should her services be required.
Lisdowney’s Claire Phelan was found herself sweeping just in front of her full-back line. Phelan’s ability to read the game is a huge asset to this Kilkenny team. The more recent additions of Tiffi Fitzgerald and Laura Murphy have added a fresh dynamic to the defensive unit. Fitzgerald appears to be a real warrior; she loves the battle and the physical side of the game. O’Loughlin’s Murphy was a goal-scoring hero in the semi-final, drifting up from wing-back and finishing with all the composure of a Gaule or Miriam Walsh.
Matthew Twomey’s side didn’t have an easy ride in their semi-final against the Deise either. They really needed to dig deep during the second half to see off a very gallant Waterford team. The introduction of key player Aisling Thompson was crucial to the Rebel’s progression to this weekend’s final.
Cork were 4 down at the short whistle, and didn’t take the lead until four minutes from the end of normal time, but their fitness and quality saw them home by five points at the end. In fact, Twomey’s team notched the last 8 points of the game.
Kilkenny will know that they will have to take every opportunity going, while staying tight at the back to give themselves the best chance of emerging victorious on Sunday. This like the hurling, could be an epic final. Unlike 2020, our girls will have the supporters with them and behind them. Let’s hope Davy Fitz isn’t smiling. Let’s hope Dowling’s panel delivers.
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
So, our camog’s are back in another All-Ireland Final. Brian Dowling’s outfit have really dug in during a testing season and have deservedly managed to reach the decider.
The Cats performance in their semi-final win over Galway was magnificent, but that will pale into insignificance should they fall at the final hurdle on Sunday. The result at Croker in two days’ time is all that now matters.
Cork are old foes, and very dangerous opponents. When they got the better of us last season, I think they believed it was their year. Galway had different ideas. Matthew Twomey’s side will have learned a lot from that defeat and will be determined not to receive a second dose of that horrible beaten finalist’s feeling.
The Rebel’s will bring their artillery, in the form of Amy O’Connor, Katrina Mackey, Chloe Sigerson and Sorcha McCartan to name but a few. Yes, they have quality camog’s throughout their panel, but so do we.
The way Miriam Walsh has torn into defence after defence, Katie Nolan’s illusiveness, Denis Gaule’s accuracy, Mary O’Connells darting runs, Julieann Malone’s clever use of space. You see… we are more than a match for Cork.
Something we need to make sure of is that defenders, Laura Hayes and Saoirse McCarthy aren’t given the freedom of Croker. These two ladies like to join the attack and are capable of troubling the scoreboard. I’d like to think Malone & Co. will keep them occupied nearer Amy Lee’s goal.
Whatever the result on Sunday, Brian Dowling and his backroom team deserve much credit for how they have helped this panel develop and evolve.
I want to see Miriam Walsh rifle the net; I want to see Katie Nolan make defenders dizzy. I want to see Aoife Norris show that she’s the best netminder around. I want to see if Katie Power can jump higher than she did at the final whistle against Galway.
Most of all I want to see the O’Duffy Cup back on Noreside. I hope the stripey women deliver. COME ON KILKENNY!!!!