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Julianne Malone: Back From Australia And Hurling Like She Never Left

Julianne Malone: Back From Australia And Hurling Like She Never Left
By Paul Keane Updated
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Technically, it was a wedding, not her own mind you, that brought Julianne Malone home from Australia.

Two years and eight months, or three seasons of inter-county camogie with Kilkenny, she spent in total in Sydney and the trip of a lifetime only ended late last year.

A family wedding brought things to a head - 'with the visa I had, if I'd left the country I wouldn't have been allowed to come back into Australia, so I had a decision to make' - but, in truth, she was already beginning to feel the pull of home and of Kilkenny camogie.

Brian Dowling, the Kilkenny manager, had got a 'thanks but no thanks' when he'd first made contact with Malone in early 2021, to sound her out. A few months later, when he heard the 2016 All-Ireland winner and PwC Camogie All-Star was home for good, he didn't waste any time phoning again.

"She didn't need any coaxing or anything," said Dowling of the conversation.

"The club season was still going on and she had thrown herself straight back into that so she was keen to go again with Kilkenny."

With a second All-Ireland medal now tucked away, and a nomination for a second PwC Camogie All-Star earned, it is tempting to presume that Malone simply picked up with Kilkenny in 2022 where she had left off in 2018. It wasn't quite that easy after three years away though.

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"We knew that she wasn't going to hit the ground running straight away but we also knew her class and her ability and that it would eventually come," said Dowling.

"The more games she played, the better she got. It helped that she had a fantastic attitude and really looked after herself in Australia."

Julianne Malone on camogie Down Under

After winning the All-Ireland in her debut season with Kilkenny, in 2016, Malone added National League medals in 2017 and 2018 before hitting for Australia.

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"I played with Central Coast, a fantastic club in Sydney," she said.

"I played a bit of football with them as well.

"A lot of people wouldn't realise but it is pretty competitive out in Sydney, there's a lot of past inter-county players, and even current inter-county players, the likes of Meighan Farrell or Mary O'Connell, out there.

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"Meighan obviously hurled for Kilkenny and she is playing for St Pat's, they would have been our biggest rivals out in Sydney.

"Her sister Shelley is out there as well and plays for St Pat's.

"When I was with Sydney, I ended up playing against her."

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If it sounds like Julianne Malone simply put down her camogie stick in Ireland and picked it back up in Sydney, that's not quite the story either. She was working as a nurse there and searching for new life experiences generally.

"Life in Sydney is a bit like....well, you don't really make plans for the long-term, it's a bit different to life at home because you don't really think about the future, the future doesn't bother you," she said.

"You're just so happy in the now, you just take every day as it comes.

"That's one of the major benefits of life in Australia, you don't really have those big life commitments, you're just out there to enjoy yourself.

"That's kind of why when Brian rang me the first time, I couldn't even give him a definite time frame about when I would be home, I genuinely didn't know myself at that stage."

Just as she was coming back with Kilkenny, Davina Tobin and Coletter Dormer, two stalwart defenders who lined out in the 2021 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Cork, were pulling up anchor and moving on. Meighan Farrell, who also started that game, opted out too. Then, earlier this season, the Doyle sisters, Kellyann and Aoife, both suffered bad knee injuries and were sidelined for the rest of the season.

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Dowling felt like he'd been tossed a box of jigsaw pieces, with no accompanying picture of how they should be pieced together. With ongoing issues at midfield, he figured Malone might solve a problem there but it didn't work out as planned and he ended up taking her off in a couple of National League games. In the third and final league game, against Cork, she played in defence.

She didn't start the Leinster championship quarter-final tie against Wexford but did come on up front and, crucially, looked much more comfortable.

"She found her feet and drove it on for the rest of the year," recalled Dowling.

"Yeah, it probably was the Wexford game where I felt things started to kick off for me," nodded Malone.

"I didn't start but I came on at wing-forward and things went well for me. Everything kind of progressed better for me after that game."

Kilkenny played 10 more games in the Championship and Malone started them all, scoring in eight of them. In the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway she hit four points from play. Kilkenny only won that game by one. Her value to the team was clear.

Julianne Malone feels this year's All-Ireland success was very similar to 2016

When Kilkenny then beat Cork narrowly in the final, it felt like being dragged back in time to 2016 and her first season as a senior.

"Because of the three-year gap, it did nearly feel like a new beginning again," said Malone.

"There were definitely similarities with 2016 because we won the All-Ireland both years, both were finals that could have gone either way, and against Cork as well so there was a bit of deja vu there alright.

"2016 was probably one of the best years of my life, apart from my Mam passing away, but she was around for all the success so it was kind of nice to relive that year again in some ways."

Even before the final she was a shoo-in for a PwC Camogie All-Star nomination, given her displays.

"I had a good semi-final but my performance in the final wasn't the best, we'll just have to wait and see," she said.

The really exciting thing, from Malone's perspective, is what Kilkenny might actually be capable of in 2023, with momentum on their side and players due to come back.

"Considering we won an All-Ireland with all the juggling around, going into next year you'd be pretty confident," she said.

"It felt like we were only properly gelling at the end of the year.

"With everyone staying on for next year, I can only imagine that things will progress even further."

SEE ALSO: It Was A Year To Remember For Shanise Fitzsimons And Cavan Camogie

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