Updated Jan 13th 2021, 8:07 PM
KILKENNY MANAGER BRIAN Dowling got the phonecall he feared might be coming shortly after Christmas.
He had managed to coax her back into the squad last year, and was hopeful that a split season might encourage her to postpone any retirement plans in 2021.
But by the end of 2020, with a second All-Ireland medal in her pocket, Anne Dalton had made up her mind.
The Cats boss could only respect her call and remain forever thankful to have worked alongside one of the greats of modern camogie.
“People would maybe talk about the Downeys [Ann and Angela] as the big name in Kilkenny camogie, and I think Anne Dalton can be added to that group for sure,” he tells The42, paying Dalton the highest compliment possible as she steps away from the inter-county game.
The final tallies that stand beside her name make for impressive reading. Six All-Stars and two Player of the Year awards in 2009 and 2018 to go with those two All-Ireland titles in 2016 and 2020.
Proficient in midfield and attacking roles, Dowling always appreciated the versatility that the St Lachtain’s player brought to the Kilkenny jersey.
Her leadership qualities were a key asset to Kilkenny as well, particularly when they found themselves trailing Cork by six points after just eight minutes in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Dalton pocketed 1-1 in a player-of-the-match display as her side rallied to book a place in their fifth final in-a-row.
“She has the X-Factor,” says Dowling about the now-retired Dalton.
“I think players like Anne Dalton, you don’t need to coach them you don’t tell them what to do. You let them go and hurl, there’s no point holding her back.
“You can play her anywhere and she’s brilliant anywhere. She’s just an unbelievable player. There’s even days when she mightn’t be going well but she’d still score a point.
“One of her weak points would be her catching the ball and look what she did in the All-Ireland semi-final. When we really needed a goal, she just jumped ahead of two girls and buried it.
“I said it after the All-Ireland, ‘Great players stand up when you need it most,’ and that’s definitely what Anne Dalton has done down through her career.”
Reflecting on his own time with the Kilkenny camogie team, Dowling says Dalton was a huge help to him in becoming familiar with key players in opposition teams.
This was especially helpful for him when he took over as manager from Ann Downey last year.
“You’d get a big text that’d take you 10 minutes to read with all the detail on different players. She knows them inside out.”
It’s that level of dedication, according to Dowling, that makes Dalton a great candidate for management some time in the future.
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A great communicator too, Dowling says everyone in the Kilkenny squad respects and pays attention to anything Dalton has to say in the dressing-room.
“No better woman than Anne if something needs to be said.”
He points to her hunger for challenges, and recalls her performance at an in-house game against minor hurlers from surrounding clubs including players from his own club, O’Loughlin Gaels.
“We would have played the boys’ U17 minor team last year and she was unbelievable in those games. It was just a different challenge for her and she wanted to test herself against lads who are a bit stronger and more physical than her but she just always got the better of them.
“It was just a testament to her that this was a new challenge and she wanted to prove herself over and over.”
Kilkenny boss Brian Dowling.
Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO
Talented players don’t always get the send-off they deserve. Some must surrender and admit that an All-Ireland medal will forever elude them, while others watch their careers peter out as their bodies go into decline.
Dalton endured plenty of disappointment in a Kilkenny jersey, but victory in an All-Ireland final was a satisfying way to depart the scene.
Having been involved in the backroom team in 2019 when Ann Downey was in charge, Dowling was relieved to see Kilkenny get back to the top again.
It proved to be the perfect goodbye for Dalton after losing out in the last three All-Ireland finals.
“Yeah, you dream about that as a player. Especially after the heartbreak that Anne and the girls went through. I think Anne had lost six or seven All-Ireland finals so it would have been cruel on her to lose against Galway.
“I’m just delighted she got to leave Croke Park on a happy note, and I know you probably never forget the defeats but I think it’s a lot easier to forget the three-in-a-row.
“When people are maybe talking to Anne in the future, they won’t be referencing the three-in-a-row defeats.
“It’ll be the 2020 All-Ireland final, that’s the one that she’ll remember the most. It’s great that that’s the one she can sign off on now.”
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