Cats can deliver camogie success

Despite Kilkenny’s prominence in the hurling world over many decades it was 1970 before the county contested its first All-Ireland camogie final.

Despite Kilkenny’s prominence in the hurling world over many decades it was 1970 before the county contested its first All-Ireland camogie final.

That game ended in bitter disappointment following an eleven point loss to Cork. The same county was also to the fore two years later when Kilkenny was again defeated, this time by four points.

Despite those results the gap between the two counties was narrowing. 1974 saw the O’Duffy Cup arrive in Kilkenny for the first time when a team captained by Teresa O’Neill defeated Cork on a score of 3-3 to 1-5.

To date Kilkenny has won twelve All-Ireland titles. This, though, is a long way behind the two leaders, Dublin (26 titles) and Cork (24 titles).

Further titles followed for Kilkenny in 1976 and 1977 but it was the eighties and early nineties which was to herald a golden era for Kilkenny camogie.

Knowledgeable followers of the game will no doubt have differing view as to the greatest camogie team of all time but for certain that Kilkenny squad which captured nine titles between 1981 and 1994 had incredible talent.

Barren period

Many of the players from that period were also involved in the first three title successes. Since 1994 it has been a very barren period for Kilkenny camogie at senior level.

The county has contested four All-Ireland finals since 1994 losing each one. Cork took the honours on two occasions (1995 & 2009) and our neighbours Tipperary were successful in 1999 and 2001.

Cork was by far the better team in 2009 when defeating Kilkenny by eight points. That defeat could yet have a lot of relevance next Sunday.

Kilkenny will now face different opponents in Galway. I have no doubt that the hurt and disappointment the players felt four years ago will be an important motivating factor next Sunday.

It is difficult to fathom why Kilkenny has not won an All-Ireland title since 1994. The standard in other counties certainly improved but in truth it was also a case of Kilkenny losing its focus both on and off the pitch.

Kilkenny has enjoyed tremendous success at underage level in the past decade. This was not confined to the inter-county scene as Second Level Schools also enjoyed considerable successes.

Day of destiny

It has been a slow and frustrating process at times wondering if the young stars would finally make their mark. Next Sunday is their day of destiny.

In 2009 Cork was still a major force and Kilkenny had a number of inexperienced players in their team. It was a chastening experience for the players but one that will hopefully stand them in good stead next Sunday.

The lore of the Leinster camogie championship may have lessened but Kilkenny’s victory over Wexford some months ago was a defining moment. The belief and determination shown by the players since that day has been evident in all their championship outings this year.

A championship victory over Galway some months ago should not lull Kilkenny into a belief that Sunday’s final will be easy. It will be far from it.

Galway has its own motivation after suffering disappointing defeats to Wexford in the 2010 and 2011 All-Ireland Finals. The Westerners’ underage policy is also paying dividends and with a number of experienced players in their side they will be formidable opponents.

Kilkenny showed plenty of heart and determination with a stunning victory over Cork in the semi. We witnessed a side growing in maturity and self-belief. Niall Williams and Graham Dillon know many of the players from their involvement with Third Level Colleges and they have worked wonders.

Galway also had an impressive win in their semi against reigning champions Wexford. They will be confident of winning another title to go with their sole success in 1996 against Cork.

Kilkenny has been on a mission since the start of the year. The players’ moment of truth is at hand. They have the talent and determination to erase 19 years of disappointment. Go for it!