SUCCESS has come at many levels, but the desire for one glittering prize has driven the Kilkenny senior camogie team to this year’s All-Ireland final.
“Nearly all the players have under-16 and minor titles, even college All-Irelands,” said Graham Dillon, Kilkenny joint camogie manager. “We asked them if they had the one medal they really want - a senior inter-county All-Ireland. There was a resounding no.
“That’s the one medal they’ve really wanted,” he added. “That’s what they’ve been fighting for since the start of the year.”
The man who has helped bring Kilkenny to the final - only Galway stand in their way from bridging a 19-year gap - spoke as supporters flowed around Nowlan Park, wishing the players well.
“The night has brought a bit of hype to the game, but the hype is for the crowds, “ he said. “The girls are well-tuned and know that the game is played between the four posts. That’s what they’ll be working on and concentrating on before the final. They’ll be chomping at the bit to get going on September 15.”
Dillon had no doubting the steely focus that is present in the team.
“The determination was there from the off,” he said. “The first championship game (a 1-10 to 1-8 win over Galway) showed us what it was going to take to get this far. The girls are a great group who are so determined; they proved that the last day against Cork - when the semi-final came down to it they showed they really wanted it.”
It’s been a swift rise to the top for Dillon and his fellow manager Niall Williams, who find themselves facing into an All-Ireland final in their first year in charge. However, there was no surprise that it happened so quickly.
“I don’t think Niall and I would have decided to come down if we didn’t think there was a group of players here with the ability to win an All-Ireland,” he said. “There are a lot of schools and clubs represented in the panel and the credit has to go to them. They instilled the skills that are there in the players; all we did was get the right mix together and set them on the path. They bought into what we brought down and they’ve focused on the field.
“For the amount of work they’ve put in this team has had its just rewards,” he added. “We’ve completed more than 110 training sessions since December. They know the hard work is done and they don’t want to leave it (the title) behind at this stage.”
Such a high number of training sessions is a staggering statistic, but the team know what they have to do to attain success.
“It’s well known here in Kilkenny what it takes to win an All-Ireland,” he said. “Our players have seen how hard the hurling teams train and they decided they wanted the same for themselves. They put the sessions in and have worked hard for the time we are together - they knew in the last 10 minutes against Cork, when it looked like things were going against us, that they didn’t want to leave all that hard work behind them. It was great to see them push on and show the nerve to get Cork out of the way.
“They’ve earned that right to be in an All-Ireland final,” Dillon added. “Now we’ll work hard in training, for 70 minutes on September 15. Hopefully, with a bit of luck, we’ll come out on the right side of the result.”
Having previously managed at college level, Dillon admits that more planning went into preparing for the inter-county scene, but that those plans were directed towards a successful outcome.
“We sat down with the players and mapped out a plan all the way up to September 15,” he admitted. “We did that because that’s where we wanted to go. We wanted to have two teams there but unfortunately it didn’t happen for the intermediates. However, we kept a large senior squad and the players all rowed in behind them.
“There is a difference going from the college to the county scene but that comes from what the girls bring to the equation,” he said. “They’ve had a just reward in making an All-Ireland final.”
The duo also began their time in charge with a blank canvas - everyone who wanted a chance to make the squad got it.
“We weren’t overly aware before we came in what the club scene was like in Kilkenny, but to us it didn’t matter,” he said. “We offered every camogie player over 18 the chance to come in and prove themselves.
“Most of what came in is still here today,” he added. “They came in and gave it their all. The reward won’t come for just the senior panel but all the players who attended the meeting and brought Kilkenny camogie forward.
“The players know what it’s about - they know what’s coming,” he added. “September 15 - that’s what it’s all about!”