Julianne Malone was in top form for Kilkenny
Champions Kilkenny employed a double Plan B and they roared back into the Littlewoods National Camogie League final.
The Cats panel has been ravaged by injury, with 10 of last year’s All-Ireland winning team on the treatment table at one stage.
On Sunday management sent out seven newcomers in a Plan B team to do duty in the semi-final against Galway in Thurles, and they returned with first class honours.
The young braves duly did the business, although they left it until the second half to produce their best when they reorganised their defensive strategy and used the ball with greater purpose to out-score the opposition by 10 points to two.
Here the Plan B re-think worked a treat as their better use of possession led to a scoring blast that helped them book a place in the final in two weeks time against Cork, in what will be a repeat of last September’s All-Ireland final.
“There are 36 girls on the panel, and we are delighted to have the 36 now,” insisted pleased Kilkenny manager, Ann Downey afterwards. “Some of the starters weren’t on the panel last year so I am delighted for them that they in a League final.
“It was great exposure to big time competition for the girls. It was a great win.”
The bad run of injuries continued. Kelly Ann Doyle picked up a bad knock the previous week against Cork, and on Sunday Catherine Foley had to be helped from the field after receiving a leg injury. Foley could be sidelined for weeks.
Got things right
“In the second half we tightened up at the back and Anne Dalton stepped back in front of their star, Ailish O’Reilly,” explained the Kilkenny manager, reminding that her side trailed by 0-9 to 1-4 at the break after playing with the fresh breeze.
“Ailish had caused us a few problems, but the second half plan worked. We got things right and the girls worked harder.
“They used their heads. Our use of the ball in the second half was much better.
“In the first half we were just getting rid of it, and putting impossible ball into the forwards. In the second half we looked up and tried to give good ball to the attack. These youngsters can't lose playing in a ’League final.
“You couldn’t buy an experience like that, and then playing against Cork. We had a great game in Dunmore last week against Cork. I am sure there is another one ahead. We are all looking forward to the final, but we will have to up our performance if we want to retain the title.”
Want to win in final
Still, the former star insisted, the final was there to be won.
“This is great for young players like Jenny Clifford, who came up from intermediate last year. Danielle Morrissey, who is only a minor, started. Niamh Deegan, another minor, came on in the second half. They all did really well.”
The game opened with Aoife Donohue and Denise Gaule (K) trading points before Julianne Malone, after taking a pass from Katie Power, threatened the Galway goal only to be blocked on the right edge of the square.
The Cats did grab a goal, however.
Malone created the opening for Danielle Morrissey to palm the ball into the net in the seventh minute (1-1 to 0-1), and when Meighan Farrell drilled over a point, they looked set to motor.
Galway battled to gain a footing, and powered on by centre-back, Rebecca Hennelly and scoring star, Ailish O’Reilly, who nabbed five scores in this half, they took the long route to equality in the 17th minute (1-2 to 0-5).
Miriam Walsh and Aoife Donoghue (G) swapped minors before Niamh Kilkenny and the deadly O’Reilly put two together to take them 0-8 to 1-3 clear.
Before the break Denise Gaule and O’Reilly, with another free, traded points to leave Galway leaders by 0-9 to 1-4 at half-way.
From the start of the second half there was new bite to Kilkenny’s play, and slowly Anne Dalton emerged as a major force in a ‘give not an inch’ defence.
The opposition were hounded all over the park as Dalton, Julianne Malone, Aisling Dunphy, Grace Walsh, Meighan Farrell, Miriam Walsh and company all upped their game, while interval sub Jenny Clifford added pace to the attack.
The chase began with a point from a free by Denise Gaule following a foul on the hard going Dunphy.
The equaliser in the 38th minute highlighted Kilkenny’s new approach. The ball was worked from safe handling goalie Emma Kavanagh through Gaule, Dunphy and up to the marauding Miriam Walsh, who was fouled on the opposing ‘20’. Gaule had no problem popping over the point.
The build up to the lead point from Miriam Walsh was similar, with Grace Walsh and Julianne Malone the engineers of the space for the finisher.
Clifford clipped over a quick point within seconds to edge the Cats 1-9 to 0-10 clear.
Niamh Kilkenny won good possession around the ‘50’ before shooting Galway’s last point in the 47th minute (1-9 to 0-11).
Kilkenny were slowly building the power, but they shot three wides before another great move involving Catherine Foley, Dalton and Miriam Walsh ended with Clifford being placed in front of goal.
The Dicksboro girl was fouled. Gaule picked off a handy point and when she added another in the 55th minute it was all over for the score starved Westerners.
SCORERS: Kilkenny - Denise Gaule (0-7, four frees); Miriam Walsh (0-3); Danielle Morrissey (1-0); Jenny Clifford, Meighan Farrell, Julianne Malone, Katie Power (0-1 each). Galway - Ailish O’Reilly (0-5, three frees); Niamh Kilkenny (0-3); Aoife Donoghue (0-2); Niamh McGrath (0-1).
Kilkenny - Emma Kavanagh (Rower-Inistioge); Aisling Nolan (Clara), Anne Dalton (St Lachtain’s), Claire Phelan (Lisdowney); Meighan Farrell (Thomastown), Denise Gaule (Windgap), Catherine Foley (Windgap); Julianne Malone (Mullinavat), Katie Power (Piltown); Aisling Dunphy (St Brigid’s), Grace Walsh (Tullaroan), Michelle Teehan (James Stephens); Jenny Reddy (Thomastown), Miriam Walsh (Tullaroan), Danielle Morrissey (Conahy Shamrocks). Subs: Jenny Clifford (Dicksboro), Niamh Deely (James Stephens), Stacey Quirke (St Martin’s), Aine Gannon (Rower-Inistioge).
Galway - T. Murphy; T. Kenny, S. Dervan, D. Higgins; H. Cooney, R. Hennelly, T. Manton; AM Starr, A. Donoghue; A. O’Reilly, N. Hanniffy, O. McGrath; J. Gill, N. Kilkenny, N. McGrath. Subs: S. Healy, N. Coen.
Referee - Eamon Cassidy (Derry).