Continuing our build-up to the 2017 All Ireland Senior Camogie Championship finals, Daragh Ó Conchúir takes to 2016 Player of the Year, Kilkenny’s Denise Gaule.
With so many of the players having lost three All-Ireland Finals themselves and Kilkenny gone 22 years without a title, there were some that wondered whether the enormity of finally crossing the line last term and the celebrations that would inevitably follow would dull the appetite of the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie champions.
There is no evidence of that having occurred however, judging from events of this year when they got the better of Cork again, this time in the National League Final when an early goal from Denise Gaule sent them on their way. Since then, they have progressed to within an hour of a Double-Double, with the Rebels once more standing in their way.
According to Gaule, 2016 was shelved once they returned to training.
“You had new girls coming in and girls coming up from Intermediate all wanting to make their mark” says Gaule. “Looking back there’s always positives to take from last year, just thinking about what we were doing because obviously we were doing something right so you try to keep it going. But it’s never really mentioned.
“Everyone knows it was a great year but for us it seems like it was coming a long time. We had lost three All-Irelands before that. In ways you take as much from years that you lose as you do when you win. So it was parked early enough to be honest, just concentrated on the League.”
Of course manager Ann Downey has 12 Senior medals so one can’t imagine anyone getting away with notions. No-one will repeat that sort of feat but to win another would stamp this out as one of the top teams.
“Every year, every team wants to win it, not just us. It has been said to be a great team you have to win more than once but we’re there long enough. I’m there nearly 10 years now and have one All-Ireland. It’s great and everything but back then, when we were in the Final in 2009 we didn’t think it would take us this long to get one All-Ireland. So we’re just trying to win this one now. But it’s gonna be tough.”
Gaule was honoured to be named player of the year after a brilliant season not just of scoring but of ball-winning and creating too. She has never been motivated by personal glory however.
“It was great but at the end of the day, I’d always say it, it’s a team sport. If we won that All-Ireland and I didn’t play good in any match and didn’t win anything individual, it wouldn’t matter to me. But it was great to get it as it really topped off the year on a personal note but I wouldn’t be too hung up on winning individual awards to be honest. It’s forgotten about now.”
It has caused her profile to increase outside of the Camogie world, particularly as she received a nomination as RTÉ Sports Person of the Year. She is encouraged by the increasing coverage of the sport but feels for the stellar talents whose abilities are unknown to most.
“I look at girls on our team and think they should be getting way more attention. The likes of Claire Phelan is one of the best hurlers I’ve ever seen skill-wise. It’s the same few that are always getting the recognition but there are 15 players on every team capable of doing it. It’s great having a few more matches on television though. That definitely helps.”
It is indicative of a strong team ethos that those getting the headlines point to others. Gaule displays the trait once more when discussing alternating free-taking duties last year with Anne Dalton and this year with impressive newcomer Danielle Morrissey.
“Danielle has come in and she’s doing great. Because I’m left-handed and she’s right-handed, we kind of said she’d take the ones close in on the left-hand side. If she gets a free and pops it over, it’s gonna give her a lot of confidence. She’s young and it’s great to see her coming in.”
Dublin posed a lot of difficult questions in the Semi-Final with space at a premium. Gaule goaled from an early penalty but the Cats had to grind it out in the second half.
“We always knew it was going to be a tough match, a real dogfight. We said it after the match if that was us in previous years we would have just collapsed. We have a bit of grit about us now that we won’t give in easy. ‘Twas a great match, Dublin have come on a lot and it was good for us I suppose having such a tough Semi-Final. We probably learned a lot and can take a lot from that match to improve on.”
With familiar opposition for tomorrow’s 4pm throw-in at Croke Park, Gaule is expecting a fierce encounter.
“It should be a good match. We’re well used to each other and everyone knows each other. We know how they play and they probably know how we’re setting up but there’s always surprises on the day. Hopefully it’ll be a good match. There’ll be a lot of tactics I’d say” says the 26-year-old Windgap woman laughing, with both sides renowned for their use of sweepers.
“Please God we’ll come out the right side of the result but they’ll have extra incentive after losing out last year. It’s up to us to up it and it’ll be whoever works hardest on the day I think should come out with the win.”