IT WAS A fitting answer to a brave challenge, but the Kilkenny under-16 camogie team came agonisingly short of salvaging a draw with old rivals Tipperary.
The Cats deserved credit for the courage they showed in battling to the bitter end in the opening round of the All-Ireland championship at The Ragg, but despite whittling an eight-point deficit to the bare minimum their charge proved to be in vain.
It was a dismal end to the day for Kilkenny, who only led once throughout. Michaela Kenneally gave them that advantage when she pointed superbly from play after just 90 seconds.
However, Tipperary took over. Once Aisling McCarthy goaled from a 13th minute snapshot they held the initiative for the duration.
The defending All-Ireland champions featuring a considerable number of last year’s team and led 1-6 to 0-3 at the interval. They could have been further only for some good defending by Kilkenny, especially from the game’s outstanding performer Aine Gannon.
Roisin Breen pointed twice - including a free - early in the second half to narrow the deficit, but any hopes of victory appeared to have been scuppered when Tipperary plundered a second goal in the 37th minute.
The Premier County girls were quick to react to a throw-in ball and with the Kilkenny defence cut open, Cliodhna Ryan found herself with a clear path in front of goal.
Ryan’s effort was brilliantly smothered by Kilkenny goalkeeper Kirsty Maher, but Courtney Ryan followed up to slot home the rebound.
The lively Toni Kennedy added more misery when she pointed from play in the 41st minute. Despite Kilkenny’s best attempts, Tipp maintained that eight-point lead going into the final 10 minutes (2-9 to 0-7).
Kilkenny made numerous substitutions, with the switching of Roisin Breen to wing-back and Katie Nolan to attack proving instrumental in their comeback.
The bench was emptied as all five subs were used. Megan Walsh and Cliona Quirke were introduced at half-time, while Laura Murphy, Chloe Purcell and Laura Greene also entered the fray.
Faced with a large mountain to climb, Roisin Breen got the ball rolling with a 54th minute free. Thirty seconds later, Breen’s low ball forward was picked off Michaela Kenneally who pointed to narrow the gap.
Glimmer of hope
Mary O’Connell then pointed from distance, before another Breen free gave Kilkenny a glimmer of hope.
A considerable amount of injury-time was played, and Kilkenny kept plugging away. They were rewarded when strong forceful pressure by Michaela Kenneally and Megan Walsh saw Katie Nolan slot home from close range to leave just a point between the sides.
There was still time for Kilkenny to snatch a leveller, but it wasn’t to be. In spite of the pressure Tipperary held out.
Despite the disappointment in defeat Kilkenny can take plenty of heart from the strong finish. Wing-back Aine Gannon gave a wonderful display, driving the ball forward to her attacking colleagues with pinpoint accuracy.
Roisin Breen was a revelation during the second half, especially when switched to wing-back. She was central to Kilkenny’s revival. Deirdre Walsh, Mary O’Connell, Michaela Kenneally, Katie Nolan and substitute Laura Murphy all performed soundly.
Kilkenny will be hoping to make amends when they take on Cork this weekend. Victory at home to the Rebels is essential if they are to maintain their championship prospects.
SCORERS: Tipperary - Niamh Treacy (0-5, 0-4 frees); Aisling McCarthy, Courtney Ryan (1-0 each); Toni Kennedy (0-2); Cliodhna Ryan, Nicola Butler (0-1 each). Kilkenny - Roisin Breen (0-5, 0-4 frees); Katie Nolan (1-1); Michaela Kenneally (0-2); Sarah Whelan, Jenny Clifford, Mary O’Connell (0-1 each).
Kilkenny - Kirsty Maher (Dicksboro), Sarah Walsh (Thomastown), Deirdre Walsh (Mooncoin), Miriam Bambrick (Paulstown/Goresbridge), Aine Gannon (Rower-Inistioge), Mary O’Connell (Clara), Katie Nolan (St Martin’s), Mary Corcoran (St Anne’s), Laura Hegarty (Lisdowney), Sarah Whelan (St Anne’s), Michaela Kenneally (Windgap), Jenny Clifford (Dicksboro), Ciara Byrne (Clara), Roisin Breen (Paulstown/Goresbridge), Niamh Sweeney (St Anne’s). Subs: Megan Walsh (Danesfort), Cliona Quirke (St Martin’s), Chloe Purcell (St Anne’s), Laura Murphy (O’Loughlin Gaels), Laura Greene (O’Loughlin Gaels).
Tipperary - Siobhan Barnaville, Stephanie Kenny, Julieann Burke, Emma Buckley, Mairead Eviston, Jenny Grace, Ciara Cummins, Lorna O’Dwyer, Mairead Teehan, Aisling McCarthy, Niamh Treacy, Nicola Butler, Courtney Ryan, Cliodhna Ryan, Toni Kennedy.
Referee - Mike Sheehan (Cork).