A confession: when previewing this wonderful day for Waterford football in last week’s edition, I somewhat talked up Kildare’s chances. When asked by anyone privately in the build-up to this Intermediate All-Ireland Final, I had no doubt in my mind that Waterford would get the job done.
And how they did that, racking up 3-14 to see off their Leinster opponents by 13 points at Croke Park to ensure a deserved return to senior football in 2016, and seal an incredible intermediate double for Port Láirge.
Much had been made of Kildare’s five goals in their semi-final win over Offaly but there was no hay to be made given they raised only five white flags that same afternoon.
A resolute Waterford defence, which had conceded only five goals in their last five outings, wasn’t going to be handing out early Christmas at a sun-kissed Croker – and so it proved.
While Kildare had a good start, opening the scoring inside 20 seconds, Waterford responded immediately via Aileen Wall and when the same player brought Waterford’s tally for the afternoon to 1-3 with less than 12 minutes, one sensed where this game was headed even at so early a juncture.
And after Katie Hannon, who’d never played in goal in this code until this year made a stunning first half save to cough up only a 45, I felt the white and blue ribbons would be on display come full-time. The disappointments of the 2010 and 2012 final defeats were consigned to history.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” said elated Waterford manger Pat Sullivan just moments after the final whistle.
“The 27 players in this panel have worked so hard to get here today. We said at half-time that whatever happened we were not leaving this behind…and today was our day.”
The response to the shock League Final defeat to Sligo has been emphatic – six Championship wins, and an incredible scoring tally of 18-106.
But as Pat told TG4: “If someone asks in 10 years time who won the League in 2015, they won’t know, but by God they’re going to know who won this Championship.”
Saluting their physical and mental fitness, Pat Sullivan said his team has truly earned “their place at the top table of senior football,” and they’ll enter the top grade as an experienced, battle-hardened outfit.
My own main hope is that following Sunday’s win, that some of the older players opt not to bow out on this admittedly terrific high. Everyone who featured on Sunday and throughout the season still has something to offer in next year’s campaign: take Michelle Ryan’s marvellous contribution off the bench at HQ, for example.
“We desperately wanted to get back into senior football and we’ve no intention of coming back down,” said a proud manager, as the curtain closed on arguably the greatest year in the history of women’s Gaelic Games in this county. Two All-Irelands in a fortnight. Deise Abú!