WHAT an All-Ireland final we had. A free-flowing, high scoring, fast-paced game which we badly needed.
The last few All-Ireland finals have been poor in that regard, Cork winning aside.
What a performance by Galway. They were immense, having improved even further on their semi-final win over Cork.
They beat both Cork and Kilkenny to take the title so no one can say they don’t deserve it, or that they got lucky. Winners of the 2019 National League, it’s been an amazing season for them.
Very few saw it coming. Yes, Galway have been hovering around the semi-finals this past four years but couldn’t get over the line.
Last year they lost to Kilkenny by a goal in the closing minutes. That hurt them. The last five times Kilkenny and Galway have met in championship Kilkenny have come out on top, the most recent being last June.
The confidence, the belief, the physical strength, attacking style and speed of Galway has improved tenfold and Cathal Murray has done a wonderous job.
I gave the stats last Saturday that Kilkenny had scored 16 goals and 102 points in five games and conceded 6-52. Galway had scored 8-80 and conceded 3-43 against the same opposition as both teams were in the same group, indicating that Kilkenny had the more lethal forwards, goalscoring forwards in particular, but Galway were far tighter at the back.
And God were they tight. It’s hard to believe that Kilkenny never got a sniff of goal after scoring 16 to reach the final.
Sarah Healy didn’t have to make one save. Incidentally, what a brilliant point she scored from a free in additional time to put Galway five up. Brilliant for an 18-year-old.
Kilkenny scored just seven points from play despite playing a more attacking style this year. That’s down to the tremendous Galway defence who also did marvellously against Cork.
And in addition to that, Galway’s forwards raised the bar. Three top class strikes to hit the net and unlucky not to get another two, they tore Kilkenny apart.
Over the past couple of years Ann Downey has been criticised for her defensive approach. I’ve too been critical of it. Yet she was somewhat vindicated on Sunday as her defence were split open.
I think she had to go on the attack this year but maybe keeping Ann Dalton at centre-back might have helped that defensive problem.
Kilkenny did eventually go more defensive and stopped the Galway goals, but the damage was done. Ann Downey has stepped down as manager after three years of heartache.
One has to give huge credit to Cathal Murray. Once again, he had his homework done. The magnificent Niamh Kilkenny lined out up front against Cork. She was outstanding that day.
To play her at midfield, where she totally dominated, Niamh made two goals and struck four magnificent points.
Another masterstroke was placing Catriona Cormican on Ann Dalton. Tara Kenny, a stalwart for Galway, injured her cruciate in a recent challenge game. In stepped Catherine Finnerty and what a contribution she made. She was extremely hard working and excellent as a playmaker.
It’s gut wrenching to lose three finals in a row, there’s just no other way to describe it. To be in six finals in the last seven years and win just one is tough.
The last two final losses seemed to have had a negative effect in Kilkenny minds last Sunday rather than be a motivating factor and that can happen. The fear factor.
The strength and conditioning that Galway has introduced has worked wonders but more evident is the confidence they now play with. We saw it against Cork, and we saw it again against Kilkenny.
When the Cats narrowed a seven-point lead down to two with 10 minutes remaining, Galway just stepped it up a notch again, hitting four points without reply to win by six. Historically they’ve have folded.
I thought Michelle Quilty and Denise Gaule, in particular, had very good games for Kilkenny. At the other end Kellyann Doyle found the first half particularly difficult. Grace Walsh was surprisingly off, although she made a great save in additional time in that opening half to save a certain fourth goal for Galway.
What now for the All-Ireland champions? Having also been in the Intermediate final and winning U16A titles from 2015-2018, while also losing to Cork in 2019, means the future looks bright again.
When Galway won their last title in 2013, I personally didn’t feel they were a great side. I think things fell their way.
But I’m really impressed with this Galway side and if Cathal Murray stays on board they’ll have a big say again in 2020.
Top marks to referee Ray Kelly who played his part in a great final even if I did feel that one or two yellow cards were harsh.