There was nothing but heartache for hard trying and brave Kilkenny in bright but wet Croke Park on Sunday.
The search for the first O’Duffy Cup win since 1994 in the All-Ireland senior camogie final will continue following the disappointment of this defeat against Galway.
No one could begrudge the Tribes-ladies their day in the sun following All-Ireland final defeats in 2008, 2010 and 2011, but still the pain of defeat was acute.
Key to Galway’s victory was a strong and solid defensive unit, ably led by experienced centre-back Therese Maher, who was deservedly rewarded with an All-Ireland senior medal following 17 years of sterling service with the county.
Maher was part of a strong half-back line involving inspirational captain Lorraine Ryan and Sinead Cahalane. They kept the opposition on a tight rein and drained the life out of them.
The fact that the Kilkenny attack only scored 0-3 from play shows the strength of the Galway defence. It was one of those days when Kilkenny just couldn’t get their best game going. The effort was there, but things just didn’t click and the forceful play that destroyed favourites Cork in the semi-final didn’t reappear.
Dynamic 19-year-old, Niamh McGrath led the attack well from centre-forward. She contributed 0-5 (0-4 frees), while another 19-year-old, goalscorer Ailsih O’Reilly was a real handful for the Kilkenny full-back line all afternoon.
Noreen Coen, when introduced as a first half substitute, was superb. She constantly caused havoc for the Kilkenny defence and she also tracked back to do a lot of good work around the midfield area. Wing-forward Emma Kilkelly was highly industrious in tracking back superbly, and helping out the defence/midfield area.
The Kilkenny forwards struggled throughout, despite the best attempts of centre-forward Aisling Dunphy. Shelly Farrell was a real handful during the opening half, but she was starved of possession afterwards.
Galway had done their home work well, and they kept the game tight and didn’t allow the opposition open up play too often.
Mairead Power had a brilliant second-half and defended superbly, while Kate McDonald and Edwina Keane performed solidly also, just like they did throughout what has been a good championship.
Ann Dalton was magnificent in midfield. She did her utmost to rouse and inspire all around her, but quite often during the second half she lacked the support of colleagues for her impact to provide a telling effect.
Overall it was mostly a scrappy game, with quality quite often at a premium and certainly not one to live long in the memory.
Galway had the advantage of the wind during the opening half, but after a tight and tense opening 25 minutes Kilkenny led 0-4 to 0-3. Shelly Farrell was very prominent.
However, Galway’s 1-2 without reply during the closing minutes of the half proved to have a significant effect. Ailish O’Reilly’s hand-passed goal was a source of disappointment to Kilkenny goalkeeper, Emma Kavanagh.
O’Reilly raced through and had a clear path to goal.
Her hand-passed attempt into the net was brilliantly stopped by Kavanagh, but unfortunately, the pace of the sliotar proved too much for the Rower-Inistioge lady. The ball trickled over the goalline, 1-3 to 0-4.
Substitute Noreen Coen, who was introduced late in the half, scored two points from play as the Westerners held a four point lead at the rest.
Ann Dalton opened the scoring early in the second half with an inspirational long distance point, but Kilkenny didn’t push on. They failed to score again until the 48th minute.
Niamh McGrath pointed a free to restore Galway’s four point lead before Emma Kilkelly pointed to extend the advantage to 1-7 to 0-5.
Kilkenny didn’t register a wide during the entire opening half, and it wasn’t until the 41st minute that they shot their first wide. They shot a further five wides during the closing 15 minutes, including two missed efforts that proved costly when Kilkenny were three points down.
Team captain Michelle Quilty pointed two frees to narrow the gap to three, but that was as good as it would get for Kilkenny. Galway closed out the game with two late pointed frees by McGrath as they held out for a deserved victory.
Player of the match - Lorraine Ryan (Galway).
Noreen Coen, Niamh McGrath, Ailish O’Reilly, Mairead Power and Ann Dalton were all serious contenders.
Galway captain Lorraine Ryan played a real captain’s part. Her work-rate and sense of positioning were first class as part of a strong defensive unit, and significantly she also held Katie Power scoreless from play.
Scorers: Galway – Niamh McGrath (0-5, 0-4 frees); Ailish O’Reilly (1-0); Noreen Coen (0-2); Emer Haverty, Emma Kilkelly (0-1 each). Kilkenny – Shelly Farrell, Ann Dalton (0-1, free) and Michelle Quilty (frees, 0-2 each); Aisling Dunphy (0-1).
Galway - Susan Earner, Therese Manton, Sarah Dervan, Heather Cooney, Sinead Cahalane, Therese Maher, Lorraine Ryan (captain), Niamh Kilkenny, Molly Dunne, Emer Haverty, Niamh McGrath, Emma Kilkelly, Brenda Hanney, Anne-Marie Hayes, Ailish O’Reilly.
Subs - Noreen Coen for Dunne 23 minutes; Orlaith McGrath for Hanney 61 minutes; Ann Marie Starr for Haverty 62 minutes.
Kilkenny – Emma Kavanagh (Rower-Inistioge), Mairead Power (Carrickshock), Kate McDonald (Thomastown), Jacqui Frisby (Ballyhale Shamrocks), Leanne Fennelly (Mullinavat), Edwina Keane (St Martin’s), Elaine Aylward (Mullinavat), Grace Walsh (Tullaroan), Ann Dalton (St Lachtain’s, Freshford), Claire Phelan (Lisdowney), Aisling Dunphy (St Brigids, Ballycallan), Katie Power (Piltown), Shelly Farrell (Thomastown), Denise Gaule (Windgap), Aoife Neary (James Stephens).
Subs - Collette Dormer (Paulstown) for Phelan 21 minutes; Kelly Hamilton (Rower-Inistioge) for Walsh 40 minutes; Michelle Quilty, captain (Mullinavat) for Neary 47 minutes; Miriam Walsh (Tullaroan) for Gaule 55 minutes.
Referee: Ger O’Dowd (Limerick).