The waiting is almost over, it appears. Nineteen years has been one hell of a long time to wait, writes Michael O’Leary.
However, at around 5.30pm on Sunday, the wait will, hopefully, have ended as the Kilkenny camogie girls go in search of a first senior All-Ireland win since 1994 in Croke Park.
Their opponents from West of the Shannon, Galway have also been waiting a long time for All-Ireland glory, as they have to go back to 1996 for what proved to be their sole All-Ireland success.
A refreshing first All-Ireland senior final between the two counties awaits in GAA headquarters on Sunday.
Kilkenny will be hoping to make it lucky number 13 in the year 2013 as they have won the senior All-Ireland championship 12 times in their history.
They made the breakthrough back in 1974 when Teresa O’Neill captained the county to All-Ireland success following a replay victory over Cork. Former camogie President Mary Fennelly captained the county to success in 1976 when they defeated Dublin 0-6 to 1-2. They retained the All-Ireland 12 months later when Angela Downey captained the county, defeating Wexford.
Liz Neary was captain in 1981 when they defeated Cork 1-9 to 0-7 after a replay. The golden era followed in the mid-eighties. The start of the famous 7-in-a-row began when the Cats defeated Dublin by 0-7 to 1-3 in 1985, before they retained the O’Duffy Cup 12 months later.
Cork were the losers over the next three years from 1987-1989 inclusive, before Breda Holmes from Tullaroan captained the county to All-Ireland success in 1990. They defeated Wexford (1-14 to 0-7).
The 7-in-a-row was completed in 1991 when Angela Downey captained Kilkenny to victory over Cork, while their last All-Ireland success in 1994 saw Angela’s twin sister, Anne as the winning captain when they defeated Wexford, 2-11 to 0-8.
Since then, Kilkenny have appeared in four All-Irelands in which they were unsuccessful, losing in 1995, 1999, 2001 and 2009. Galway have become accustomed to heartbreak in All-Ireland finals since making the breakthrough in 1996.
They lost the following two finals to Cork in 1997 and 1998, while they have tasted defeat three times over the past five years. In 2008, they lost to Cork 2-10 to 1-8, while they were defeated by Wexford in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
The 2011 All-Ireland final defeat in particular was a real sickener. Galway were looking good for victory as they led 1-8 to 1-5 with 10 minutes remaining.
However, an Ursula Jacob goal helped changed the complexion of the outcome to compound the Westerners to further All-Ireland final misery.
With three All-Ireland final defeats over the past five years, it could be said that there are questions regarding Galway’s mental strength. They crushed disappointing Wexford in the semi-final.
In truth, Galway were never remotely threatened during the semi-final as Wexford never raised a gallop. Galway face a different challenge on Sunday.
The fact that Kilkenny had a much tougher battle in the semi-final should have a significant bearing. They certainly proved their mettle.
Things were looking ominous early on in the first half against Cork when they conceded two goals. When Cork were leading by 2-8 to 1-9 entering the closing 10 minutes, it looked curtains for the Cats.
However, they refused to yield. They showed great mental strength to bounce back to win. What was most encouraging was the fact that a number of players have room for improvement, especially the defence.
Galway’s two corner-forwards, the experienced Brenda Hanney and Ailish O’Reilly, were a real handful against Wexford. Anne-Marie Hayes will be listed at full-forward, but she will be expected to drift.
Hanney is an experienced figure who has troubled Kilkenny in the past, while O’Reilly excelled against Wexford, scoring 0-3 from play. Niamh Kilkenny in midfield will probably be marked by Anne Dalton, and the Galway midfielder proved a thorn to Kilkenny’s chance back in 2011 when she scored 0-5 from play in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Another key battle will be how Aisling Dunphy deals with the influence of the experienced Galway centre-back Therese Maher. Dunphy has revelled since been positioned at centre-forward for the Leinster final victory over Wexford, where she mastered the best centre-back in the game, Mary Leacy, while also terrorising Cork’s Rena Buckley in the All-Ireland semi-final.
That particular duel could have a big bearing on the outcome.
In the last 10 competitive meetings in League/Championship between the two counties since 2008, Kilkenny have a 6-4 record. In all of Kilkenny’s victories, only once has the winning margin been greater than three points.
The trend in recent years has been that contests have been close. A similar pattern can be expected.
However, Kilkenny’s time has come, it appears. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the O’Duffy Cup in the Marble City on Monday evening? Best of luck girls!