The Linda Mellerick column: I never thought I'd be rooting for Kilkenny

Cork camogie legend reviews the 2020 campaign
The Linda Mellerick column: I never thought I'd be rooting for Kilkenny

Galway's Emma Helebert and Aoife Doyle of Kilkenny. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

I thoroughly enjoyed the All-Ireland Camogie final last Saturday evening. 

I enjoyed it more than the hurling final, which was a foregone conclusion from early on even if Waterford did hang in there for a long period. The difference between hurling and camogie now is that you see far more outfield action in a camogie game. 

It gets a bit boring seeing one or two touches and the ball put over the bar or wide from anything up to 80 metres. Goals for some hurling teams doesn’t even come into their thought process now, it’s a case of racking up the points at ease.

Because women don’t have that strength we see far more outfield play and I thought both Galway and Kilkenny contributed to a really good final. While many praised referee Eoin Elliot for his handling of the final, it irritated me a little if I’m honest. He refereed the final completely different from how he refereed the semi-final. 

Where was his obsession with penalising players on both sides for over-carrying on the fourth step?

I tipped Kilkenny last Saturday because I felt their defence had come on hugely in 12 months and that was where their problem lay in previous years. Tommy Walsh was one of my favourite hurlers but I’m also a big fan of sister Grace. 

She was brilliant again. Her toughness is admirable, she’s a classic defender.

Grace Walsh of Kilkenny in action against Aoife Donohue and Siobhán Gardiner of Galway. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Grace Walsh of Kilkenny in action against Aoife Donohue and Siobhán Gardiner of Galway. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Many spoke of Kilkenny’s work rate but I think it was there from both sides. You could see Kilkenny slightly getting the upper hand in the latter stages as Galway tired. Someone from Kilkenny mentioned afterwards that you could see Tommy Shefflin’s stamp all over the strength and conditioning of the team.

Last year I was rooting for Galway. This year it was Kilkenny which is something I never thought I’d see myself do such was our rivalry over the years. 

But after losing the last three finals and beating Cork in the semi-final, why wouldn’t you want to see them get over the line?

They were undoubtedly the better team on the night. They struggled at the start, particularly with their puck outs which were long and high and which their half-forward line were struggling to win. 

Aoife Doyle should have had two goals but inexperience from the player, who started in her first final, was evident in those situations. But she got four points and finished up with the Player of the Match accolade. 

Mary O’Connell, another new regular start for Kilkenny also had a chance on 46 minutes but in her mind, she had the ball in the back of the net before she had fully grasped the sliotar and the opportunity was lost. Apart from Galway’s goal just before halftime they didn’t really threaten the net and that was a credit to Kilkenny’s defence. 

I’ve already mentioned Walsh and Claire Phelan was once again brilliant at full-back, having taken over the role from Catherine Foley.

I thought Miriam Walsh gave Sarah Dervan a right battle at the other end of the pitch too.

As Kilkenny started to get a grip on the game midway through the second half they could easily have rued a few short balls into goalkeeper Sarah Healy’s hands affording her the opportunity to pump the ball back up the field. I mentioned last week that typically conversion rates in camogie from penalties are poor and that if either side got an opportunity this year they needed to take it. 

The penalty was well-struck by Denise Gaule even though Healy should have reacted better and it was the deciding factor in the end.

Kilkenny's Denise Gaule celebrates scoring her penalty against Galway. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Kilkenny's Denise Gaule celebrates scoring her penalty against Galway. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Big news during the week when the GPA and WGPA voted overwhelmingly to merge into a 4,000 strong players’ body. 100% of GPA members voted in favour and 96% of the WGPA members voted yes. An AGM will take place in the second quarter of 2021 to elect a new national executive which will proportionally represent the association’s female and male members.

This will further push the three sporting organisations of the GAA, Camogie Association and the LGFA to come together under the one umbrella. I think that while there will be those against it, it’s only a matter of time before it happens. 

But that time can’t drag on. This must happen within three years. By 2023 we should see this in play.

Reflecting on 2020 it’s been a tough year but on the camogie front I think we had an excellent club championship and the club/inter-county format must be the way going forward. The senior inter-county championship was also completed even though it was wrong to not continue with the minor and U16 championships.

As we close, I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a safe and healthy 2021.

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