Usually at this time of the year, the men, the hurlers in Kilkenny, would be preparing for a Croke Park showdown in September.
However, with the hurlers out of the picture, the ladies will get more of the spotlight as they prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final clash Cork on Saturday.
The clash of the Cats and the Rebelettes will be the curtain raiser to the clash of Galway and Wexford in the second semi-final. Kilkenny and Cork have been the two form teams in the championship with both winning their respective groups.
Cork have a 100% record in 2013, having won the National League as well as the Munster championship, while they easily defeated Tipperary, Dublin and Offaly to top their group to qualify for the All-Ireland semi-final.
However, Kilkenny have been improving steadily as the Summer has gone on, and they are peaking now having been defeated Wexford in the Leinster senior final, while also defeating the defending All-Ireland champions by six points in the final round of group games.
Cork have been rebuilding over the past few seasons, and in May, they retained the National League title with a 0-12 to 1-7 victory over Wexford. They possess a wealth of experience with the constant involvement of players from their last All-Ireland senior victory in 2009.
Team captain Anna Geary has had a year to remember so far. Geary was part of the Milford team that won the senior club camogie All-Ireland in Croke Park in early March, while she captained her county to league success two months later.
Rena Buckley is another experienced operator who has controlled the centre-back position with authority, while the formidable Briege Corkery will always pose a threat regardless of where she operates. Five times All-Star Jennifer O’Leary has been one of the top forwards in the game over the past decade, but the absence of Gemma O’Connor this year due to her army work commitments is a major blow.
Nevertheless, Cork have coped well, although the clash of Kilkenny will be a significant step up to what they have faced in the championship to date.
Cork defeated Kilkenny by 1-10 to 1-8 on Easter Sunday in the National League, but that lethargic shadow boxing early season encounter will be nothing compared to the cut and thrust of championship knock-out action.
A significant feature to Cork’s victory during the league was their formidable physical presence as they gained supremacy around the middle third area. How Kilkenny stand up to the physical prowess of Cork will be central to the outcome.
Certainly, their hurling ability is not in question as they have proved. What will stand greatly to Kilkenny is the fact they have had a tougher path throughout the championship.
They ground out two tough victories against Galway and Clare in matches that could have gone either way, while Cork since the League final haven’t really been severely tested.
The management team of Graham Dillon, Niall Williams, Johnjoe Aylward, Tom Doheny and Liz Dempsey have worked wonders, and the camaraderie between the players and management has created a positive vibe that has helped greatly to the development of the team.
Going into this semi-final, Kilkenny have established a settled starting 15 which will be along expected lines for this weekends semi-final. Goalkeeper Emma Kavanagh has performed solidly in her debut season, while defensively they have been excellent.
Mairead Power, Kate McDonald and Jacqui Frisby in the full-back line have been dominant, while Edwina Keane has really grown and settled into the centre-back position with such authority. The experienced Elaine Aylward has been one of Kilkenny’s leaders to date, while Leanne Fennelly and Grace Walsh will battle it out for the No. 5 jersey.
The industrious Claire Phelan has been performing magnificently in midfield, while alongside her Ann Dalton has been showing signs of returning to her best form that saw her win player of the year back in 2009.
Aisling Dunphy and Denise Gaule have operated at centre-forward and full-forward respectively, although don’t be surprised if there are a few positional switches in the attacking division.
Perhaps the management team might tinker with the idea of switching Ann Dalton to centre-forward and Dunphy back to her familiar midfield position. Maybe Katie Power might be switched into the inside full-forward line where she is at her most dangerous, and move Denise Gaule out to the half-forward line where she is equally effective.
That’s the big calls that will be made.
Kilkenny’s confidence is building all the time. Hunger and determination can get them over the line for a tilt at the O’Duffy Cup on September 15.