Kilkenny lost two games in the group stages of the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues – to Wexford and Cork – but did enough to secure a place in the knockout stages nonetheless, while giving opportunities to the likes of Aisling Nolan, Michelle Teehan, Danielle Morrissey and Jenny Reddy just to name a few.
Those expecting all the big guns to return for a heavyweight semi-final clash with Galway were mistaken. In total, seven of the starting team that claimed All-Ireland honours featured, but despite the absence of Michelle Quilty, Colette Dormer, Anna and Shelly Farrell, Edwina Keane, Jacqui Frisby and Davina Tobin, they overcame a patchy first half to win by six.
In particular, given the calibre of play that was absent, it was notable how well the defensive unit performed in conceding just two second-half points. This wasn’t down just to the efforts of Nolan, Catherine Foley and Anne Dalton however, as they were regularly supported by Aisling Dunphy and Denise Gaule dropping deep to cut off the spaces and secure possession. Meanwhile, Gaule, Katie Power, Miriam Walsh and Julie Ann Malone remain key contributors at the other end of the pitch.
It is clear that Ann Downey is intent on fortifying her squad and maintaining a healthy competition for places. That, in turn, is likely to ensure no fall in standards or appetite, which might have been a concern after the bridging of a 22-year gap between All-Ireland successes. The Kilkenny boss must be delighted with proceedings so far and she’ll be happier again if her charges can retain their League title.
That won’t be easy of course. Cork will be looking for revenge having had their three-in-a-row championship dreams scuppered by the Noresiders and in no uncertain terms too. Paudie Murray’s crew were a clear second best at Croke Park last September and that stung.
There is a sense that they have resolved to build a winning momentum, in the same manner Kilkenny did last year, and emerged from the most competitive group of the competition with a flawless record from five games. Qualification was already certain when they played the Cats at the MW Hire Training Centre in Kilkenny on April 1st but they still pulled out all the stops to chisel out a one-point victory.
The form of new captain Rena Buckley and Gemma O’Connor was notable from early in the year, as was the success of Katrina Mackey in taking up the free-taking duties. That has led to the Douglas markswoman notching up some considerable tallies as she has also maintained her happy penchant for finding the opposition net.
Ashling Thompson and Pamela Mackey add to a solid foundation that has enabled Murray to freshen things up. Libby Coppinger, Linda Collins and especially Niamh McCarthy have certainly made their presence felt. McCarthy has carried on the form that helped Inniscarra relieve multiple All-Ireland champions Milford of their long-held status as Cork premiers, proving clinical when the goal opportunity presents itself.
She struck twice and Mackey once as the Leesiders pulled away from Limerick in the second half of their semi-final to record a 12-point success and add to what must be growing confidence within the camp.
Nobody would have missed the significance of Kilkenny overcoming that stuttering first-half effort against Galway though. They needed a Morrissey goal to stay within two points at the break before Gaule, Power, Malone and Walsh that got the vital scores after the resumption to pull away.
With so much talent on show, this will be well worth the admission fee.