Hurling and camogie

Slaughtneil have the experience to advance to senior camogie final while last year's heartbreak can drive Eglish on to Intermediate decider

Séamas McAleenan

AIB All-Ireland Senior club semi-finals: Sunday January 28 at 2pm: Inniskeen Grattan's, Monaghan: Slaughtneil (Derry) v Thomastown (Kilkenny) and at Banagher, Offaly: Sarsfields (Galway) v Burgess Duharra (Tipperary)

Remarkably the four provincial winners in the AIB All-Ireland Senior club camogie championship are the same as last year, but the semi-final pairings for tomorrow are, of course, different.

Last year, first time Ulster champions Slaughtneil caused a shock when they defeated Burgess Duharra of Tipperary in Inniskeen before going on to beat Galway side Sarsfields in the decider in Croke Park.

The pair could well meet once more in the final as they are in opposite semi-finals tomorrow, Sarsfields now facing the Tipperary side, while Slaughtneil have Kilkenny's Thomastown to see off once again back at the Inniskeen Grattan's pitch.

Slaughtneil coasted through the 2017 Derry championship despite not having last year's Player of the Match in Croke Park, Shannon Graham, available for selection.

Shannon delayed her world travel plans to play in Croke Park and didn't return until October, by which point only Loughgiel remained as an obstacle in the retention of the Ulster crown.

That showdown in the Athletic Grounds proved to be a real thriller with Loughgiel getting off to a flyer with two goals in the opening ten minutes and forcing the Derry side on to the back foot.

But the Emmett's are made of stern stuff and they also had added Offaly native Tina Hannon to their panel. Tina fired over a number of points before the break to leave them only two points in arrears, 2-3 to 0-7.

Shannon Graham was introduced to corner-forward as the second half progressed, but Slaughtneil didn't go into the lead until the 57th minute and eventually won by 2-11 to 3-5.

Shannon has worked hard since Halloween to re-establish herself in the team and there is every likelihood that she will get a starting jersey after showing well in recent challenge games. But for whom is the question?

I'm told that there is huge competition for places in the team and they will need that appetite to push on against a young and maturing Thomastown side that took a third successive Kilkenny title and second Leinster crown last autumn.

Central to that success are the Farrell sisters, whose only brother John Joe has been on Brian Cody's hurling team in recent seasons.

Anna captained Kilkenny in their All-Ireland final defeat by Cork last September and her midfield partner was sister Meighan, while Shelly up front was one of key scorers for the county all year.

All three won the All-Ireland with Kilkenny in 2016 and have since been joined in the panel by younger sister Eimear.

There is another Farrell in the club side at half-back and needless to say this family is the driving force in the team that Slaughtneil will take on, but there are more strong players to keep an eye on.

Corner forward Niamh Donnelly scored nine times in their 0-16 to 3-6 win over Wexford's St Martin's in the Leinster final, the goals conceded perhaps suggesting that there may be open-ings for the Ulster champions if they can get into space in front of the posts.

A lot more eyes will be on Slaughtneil this year than last when they came in a little under the radar and pulled off a shock semi-final win. As champions, they will be well scrutinised be-fore the game.

But back in the same Inniskeen ground, with the confidence that comes from a team that has done it all before, and the added talent of Tina Hannon, there is no reason why they can't reach the final.

Sarsfields and Burgess Duharra would both love another shot at Slaughtneil as the feeling has come through in interviews since last year that neither did themselves justice on the day.

Both teams are sprinkled with players that have made their mark at county level and a close game is expected.

My guess is that there won't be a repeat of the 2017 final pairing – but let's hope the Ulster champions are still standing.


Last year's heartbreak can drive Eglish on to Intermediate decider

AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Club semi finals: Sunday January 28 at 2pm: Donaghmore Ashbourne : Eglish (Tyrone) v Johnstownbridge (Kildare) and at MacDonagh Park, Nenagh: Athenry (Galway) v Lismore (Waterford)

Derry's Eoghan Rua Coleraine won the first two All-Ireland Intermediate club titles and Lis-more of Waterford have won two of the other five titles.

Lismore are the only previous winner to reach the semi-finals tomorrow and they should see off Galway opposition in Athenry to reach next month's final in Croke Park – but can Ulster champions Eglish make it back to headquarters and go one better than last season.

Their 1-10 to 1-9 defeat to Myshall from Carlow was heart-breaking and with Ulster paired with Leinster in the semi-finals this year, it looked likely that the teams were on course to meet once again after both teams reached the provincial series with ease.

Eglish were well tested in the Ulster final by Clonduff, but made it through while Myshall slipped to a 2-9 to 1-8 defeat against Johnstownbridge, who are the reigning All-Ireland Junior title-holders.

The Kildare champions came through to challenge for Leinster honours at Junior level seven years ago and have been a permanent fixture since, maturing to win back-to-back All-Irelands and now a Leinster Junior.

They certainly will put it up to Eglish with the likes of the appropriately names Eimear Hurley and Aoife Trant in defence, while Eimear's sister Siobhan is the team's top-scorer along with the dangerous Roisin O'Connell at full-forward.

Eglish have always had a strong tradition at provincial level and even reached an All-Ireland senior club decider in 1991, but the accuracy of the Donnelly sisters has been key to their more recent drive for national success.

Ciara Donnelly has been around for a few years now, but the arrival of younger sister Leeanne has added another dimension to their play.

Ciara scored all nine points in their Croke Park defeat last March, but a year on Leeanne, still a student in St Catherine's Armagh, has been stepping up to the plate and was Player of the Match in the Ulster final against Clonduff, scoring 1-2 in a 1-14 to 2-9 win. That included a late point to see them over the line.

The sisters are strategically placed on the wings and that gives the defence options on clearances. Julie Lagan, Brenda Horsfield, Ciara McGready and the Jordans have been around for quite a few years now and add experience to the set up.

The Kildare side hasn't lost a championship game now in three seasons and that makes them formidable opponents coming up from the Junior grade.

However last year's heartbreak should drive Eglish on and Lismore should be waiting for them in Croke Park.

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Hurling and camogie