'Home' venue and vocal partisan support can swing it for Cross & Passion, Ballycastle camogie side
All-Ireland Senior A camogie semi-final: Saturday, 12pm in Cushendun: Cross & Passion, Ballycastle v Presentation, Thurles
There will be a third All-Ireland semi-final in the space of 12 months against a Thurles team for most of the Cross & Passion, Ballycastle (CPC) squad tomorrow in Cushendun.
Last year the Ulster champions played the Ursuline Convent side in both the Junior and Senior semi-finals with a victory each – Thurles winning in Senior, but Cross and Passion convincing at Junior level – although both went on to lose the final to Loreto Kilkenny.
This year the other girls’ school in the Tipperary home of hurling, Presentation Convent, has emerged as Munster senior champions to make the long trek north to take on Ulster’s best.
Arguably Cross and Passion hadn’t a fair shot at last season’s senior title.
Delays caused by the weather at the knock-out stage in Ulster delayed the provincial final.
Then they and Maghera drew on the Sunday and replayed on Tuesday with Ballycastle winning and travelling to Thurles for a Saturday semi-final.
They came up short on the day, but made amends a week later with the Under 16s beating Thurles in Ballycastle by 5-12 to 2-5 to reach their final.
Most of that under 16 team will start for CPC in Cushendun with the pace and artistry of Maeve Kelly and Roisin McCormick the cutting edge to a very good panel of players.
Despite that quality, they only stumbled over the line in the Ulster final three weeks ago against St Louis, Ballymena who surprised everyone with the discipline of their performance – but Ballymena didn’t have the score-takers to get home.
That game, that ended 0-8 to 1-3, will have been excellent preparation for grounding a team that hadn’t been challenged at all in the province as the half-back line of Bronagh McKeague, Catherine McShane and Finvola McVeigh was so dominant.
That defensive dominance continued in the final, but their attack was also well shackled and this created a really tough physical game.
Meanwhile in the Munster final Presentation, Thurles were even luckier to survive as they trailed Coachford 0-12 to 2-5 going into injury time.
That game ended in a bit of controversy as the referee appeared to signal to the Thurles goalie that a long range free in the sixth minute of added time would be the last play of the game. Her delivery dropped short but fell to defender Grace O’Donnell who rounded a player and struck her side’s third goal.
Presentation, Thurles is a boarding school and draws players from the neighbouring counties as well as from clubs close to the school. Indeed the O’Connor sisters, Molly and Lucy, featured in the Laois team that beat Antrim in the All-Ireland under 16 final replay back in August.
The visitors will present a tough challenge for the Ulster champions.
But Cross and Passion came close to winning the Under 16 title last year, they have experience of contesting a senior semi-final already and have a “home” venue with an expected vocal partisan support.
That can swing it
All-Ireland Senior C camogie semi-final: Friday, 2pm in Abbey Park, Armagh: St Catherine’s, Armagh v St John the Baptist, Limerick
When St Catherine’s, Armagh faced into the Fr Davies’ Cup final just before Christmas they were the overwhelming favourites to collect a first title so high was their scoring returns in all their games.
However opponents St Killian’s, Garron Tower really put it up to them, going eight points up at the start of the second half and managing to cancel out the huge threat posed in open play by Eglish and Armagh senior player Leanne Donnelly.
However a penalty strike from Donnelly, the team captain, lifted her side and they edged home by 3-11 to 4-6.
That game will have been of huge benefit to them going into the All-Ireland series and a home semi-final today (Friday Feb 9) in Abbey Park against Munster champions St John the Baptist from Hospital in Limerick.
That battling quality and coolness under pressure when play was going against them was ideal preparation for heading into the unknown.
Hospital won the All-Ireland under 16 title at the next grade down last year and that experience undoubtedly stood to them in this year’s Munster senior series which ended with a 2-9 to 1-11 win over St Anne's Killaloe.
St Catherine’s coach, Ciara Donnelly, a sister of the captain, admitted that she knew little about the opposition and has had to focus on getting her team up for the game.
“It’s a big game for St Catherine’s and the girls have been working hard. That is all we can do and hopefully we can get things right on the day.”
Another Armagh school, St Patrick’s, Keady, defeated Borriskane CS down in Tipperary in the semi-final last year after extra time in this same competition and the Abbey Park venue should also help the new Ulster champions.
St Catherine’s have some excellent young players coming through after winning the Fontenoys’ Cup last year and reaching the A grade final in November.
With leadership coming from Caella Casey at the back and All-stars Leanne Donnelly, Katie Convie and Catherine Muldoon up front, there could well be another Armagh team in the final.