By Daragh Ó Conchúir
KILKENNY issued a clear warning to any pretenders to their Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship crown that they still have what it takes to go all the way.
The champions needed an injury-time point from Denise Gaule to snatch a draw against Clare at Nowlan Park last week, meaning a positive result in the backyard of one of their most serious challengers Galway was required to avoid the prospect of failing to make the knockout stages.
We have come to expect a reaction from Ann Downey's crew and they provided it in no uncertain style with a 2-10 to 1-8 victory in Athenry's Kenny Park and book their place in at least the quarter-finals.
It was a tactical master class by the Cats as they denied their opponents any space and forced errors from which they capitalised. Anne Dalton was the driving force for the visitors, while Katie Power, Shelly Farrell and Colette Dormer were also key contributors.
The first half was very low scoring, with the opening score from play arriving in the 24th minute, when Anne Dalton intercepted an attempted Galway pass and surged up field before banging over from 60m. Galway responded with points from Noreen Coen and the outstanding Niamh Kilkenny and they led by 0-4 to 0-3 at half time.
Kilkenny started the second half strongly with three points, including two from Power who finished with three from play, as did Niamh Kilkenny for Galway.
The Noresiders led by 0-8 to 0-7 when they punished errors from the home side, with Farrell first setting up last year's skipper and sub Michelle Quilty for a goal, before planting a low shot to the net herself soon after.
Rebecca Hennelly converted a penalty in the third minute of injury time but it was a goal of statistical interest only as Galway suffered their first competitive round-robin loss in either League and Championship since 2014, although they will hope that the record of the losing side in the last two Championship group games between the teams going on to win the All-Ireland will continue.
In the other Group 1 game, Dublin kept their knockout hopes very much alive but had to battle hard to overcome Waterford by 0-15 to 1-10 in Walsh Park.
Once more, goalkeeper Faye McCarthy was a prime contributor for David Herity's outfit, contributing four points from placed balls. Aisling Maher was leading scorer with five, while Emma Flanagan added three and former Waterford player Zoe O'Donohoe weighed in with a point.
Waterford were desperate to sign off their campaign with a win but they fell just short, despite the efforts of Beth Carton, who scored five points, and Áine Lyng, who contributed 1-2.
Dublin are now in the box seat to make it to the last six but Clare still have a chance but will need to beat Galway. Should they manage that, they will advance regardless of what happens between Dublin and Kilkenny. Galway could find themselves vulnerable were they to lose however, so it's all to play for still.