Galway senior camogie defied the bookies, winning a first national title since 2015 and halting Kilkenny's four-in-a-row march.
Despite a determined Kilkenny comeback in the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League division one final, Galway prevailed by 0-16 to 2-8.
Galway were on fire in the opening half, stunning the champions who had no answer to Cathal Murray's charges in the first half. And although they display their renowned grit in the second half, Galway deservedly took the plaudits.
Galway had built up a 0-10 to 0-4 interval lead through midfielder Aoife Donohue (0-3 ), Niamh Kilkenny (0-2 ) and freetaker Carrie Dolan (0-4 ), while Shauna Healy led the defence to frustrate the Kilkenny forwards.
Second-half goals from Michelle Quilty and Anne Dalton brought Kilkenny to within a point of Galway with 13 minutes of normal time and six of injury time, but the westerners were not to be denied. Healy, Sarah Dervan and Emma Helebert stood firm at the back, while Dolan held her nerve to convert two frees, having missed a couple earlier, and by the end Galway looked the more confident.
Manager Cathal Murray said it was always going to be a tough challenge against the four-in-a-row chasing Kilkenny.
"We’re delighted. I think we played really well in the first half, and six points at half-time probably didn’t reflect how well we played," he said.
“Kilkenny were always going to get their purple patch, and we spoke about it at half time. The reaction to that was very good, and we kicked on which was great."
Murray was particularly delighted with how Galway responsded to Kilkenny's goals.
"Last year, in the two championship matches, they scored a goal against us and our reaction wasn’t as good. Today we reacted well to it. This Galway team needed to come up and show they were able to play a Cork or a Kilkenny and beat them in a final.”
The two sides will now meet each other again in the first round of the championsip, but Tara Kenny is not getting carried away by Sunday's triumph.
“At the end of the day, we know it’s the league and we have Kilkenny in the Championship, and that’s different gravy. But we haven’t beaten Kilkenny in the last few years, so mentally that’s going to be good for us, ” she said. “I think we’re mentally stronger this year. People have looked at us sometimes nearly like we’re spoofers or bluffers, but we’ve worked hard this year and we’ll keep the head down now.”
Sarah Dervan, a beacon through good days and bad, said the win would provide a huge boost in confidence ahead of the chmpionship.
“We always hear Cork and Kilkenny are the top two teams and it was great for us to be in Croke Park and get the win. Confidence, confidence and more confidence is what we’ll take from it.
“Carrie [Dolan] was brilliant, Sarah Healy in goals, and Niamh Hanniffy is a real powerhouse of a woman. It was their first time playing in Croke Park, but you wouldn’t know it by them. The older ones were nearly more nervous.
“It’s fantastic to have had it at Croke Park and you have to take your hats off to the Camogie Association for that. You only get a handful of chances to play in Croke Park and you want to win every time you do.”
And win it Galway did, particularly after a quick start from the champions when Katie Power struck a point in the third minute. Within seconds, Anne Dalton had only Sarah Healy to beat, but on this occasion, her shot was inches wide.
Galway, however, took control, shooting the next seven points when finding gaps in a Kilkenny defence. Donohue produced a perfect point, when she forced a turnover, secured possession, and soloed forward before finishing superbly.
The Cats did steady the ship with converted frees by Morrissey (two ) and Gaule (one ), but Galway resumed after the break on the front foot with points from Dolan (free ) and Ailish O’Reilly, who moved to full-forward.
Morrissey and Dolan exchanged points from free before Morrissey set up Power for her second score, and then ace goalpoacher Quilty finished after Dalton had drawn five defenders. Although Quilty followed with a free, Niamh Hanniffy produced a super score before Kilkenny once again hit back with a Dalton goal.
However Galway's growing toughness in battle ensured a strong finish from the underdogs. Dolan found the mark twice from placed balls, while at the other end Sarah Dervan stopped Gaule in her tracks from scoring a likely equaliser.
Scorers for Galway: C Dolan 0-8 (7fs, 1 45 ); A Donohue 0-3; N Kilkenny, N Hanniffy 0-2 each; A O’Reilly 0-1
Scorers for Kilkenny : M Quilty 1-1(0-1f ); D Morrissey 0-3(2fs ); A Dalton 1-0; K Power 0-2; D Gaule (f ), C Phelan (45 ) 0-1 each
GALWAY: Sarah Healy, Shauna Healy, S Dervan, H Cooney, T Kenny, E Helebert, L Ryan, AM Starr, A Donohue, N Kilkenny, A O’Reilly, N McGrath, C Dolan, N Hanniffy, N Coen. Subs: S Spellman for McGrath (43 ), M Cooney for Coen (52 ), D Higgins for Ryan (60+2 ); Ryan for Dolan (60+3 )
KILKENNY: E Kavanagh, M Teehan, C Foley, C Dormer, , D Tobin, C Phelan, K Doyle, A Farrell, N Deeley, K Power, A Dalton, M Walsh, D Morrissey, M Quilty, D Gaule. Subs: A Doyle for Walsh (ht ), S Fitzgerald for A Farrell (42 ), M Farrell for Teehan (53 ), M Kinneally for Tobin (60+4 )
REFEREE: C Egan (Cork )