Niamh Mallon: Down have real chance to claim All-Ireland camogie final glory
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Intermediate final: Croke Park Sunday (2pm): Down v Cork
WHEN Niamh Mallon last spoke to The Irish News she was job-searching and days away from the Ulster final when she hoped that Down could upset the odds and take the title from Derry.
Three months later and things couldn’t be better. Not only did Down claim their first Ulster in 13 seasons and then go on to reach Sunday’s All-Ireland Intermediate final, but the 23-year-old Portaferry forward has landed herself a job that overlaps with her camogie.
In July she started working for data science company Orreco, a global operation specialising in identifying injury predictors, optimal training loads and recovery strategies with NBA and NHL teams in America, European soccer teams, as well as PGA Tour golfers and Formula One motor racing drivers among many others.
Mallon herself is working on a ground-breaking app that will reduce injury and illness in female athletes and it has proven understandably popular since its launch last year.
"The FitrWoman app is free to download and it incorporates evidence-based sports science research to provide training and nutrition advice tailored to your menstrual cycle" explains Mallon.
"The WGPA have done an awful lot to bring sport science and analytics into Camogie the last couple of years through the grant.
"In Down we're not overly exposed to it at the minute because of budget constraints but I'd say it won't be far down the line before it does.
"Sports science and data analytics are massive for recovery.
"That's the common topic for every sport but particularly for Camogie players because they're expected to train with the club, play with the club as well as do the same with the county.
"Rest and recovery is not really an option at times so I think recovery is massive.
"You're looking at the GPS systems, performance analysis – the top teams are all using those sorts of things and that's something we'll need over the next few years.
"At the higher levels, the more exposure you have of playing big games, the more that's going to come as well."
Big games for an Ulster camogie player don't come much bigger than an All-Ireland final in Croke Park but Down’s second half of the season could not have been predicted after the first half.
"We'd a rocky enough League campaign with players missing through different things.
"As players started to come in, we got a solid panel together. We beat Kildare in a relegation play-off and the momentum started to roll from there.
"I suppose momentum is massive in sport, isn't it? We went through the Ulster Championship and managed to win it for the first time in 13 years.
“When I spoke to you before the Ulster final, I felt that positivity and knew we were in with a real chance. And we kicked on from there.
"In the All-Ireland group stages, the momentum brought us through until we got a reality check with the Cork game in Páirce Esler and that brought us back down to earth. But we refocused and we are lucky I suppose but we've earned our place in Croke Park."
Mallon scored nine points in the two-point semi-final victory over Tipperary last month and she heads the scoring returns in the grade.
“The atmosphere in the team, the leadership from the older girls and the positivity from the management have all combined to take us this far and we don’t intend to stop here.
“We believe we have a real chance in Croke Park against Cork. It definitely won’t be the same game that was played in Páirc Esler.
"We are a different team from that night.”
And what about the fact that Cork have not conceded a goal in the championship to date?
“That is impressive indeed, but we had goal chances in Newry and didn’t take them. That is a different type of data analysis.
“If you looked at our league stats, you wouldn’t have given us much hope of playing in Croke Park in September with Ulster medals already in our pockets.
"Just because they have not conceded a goal to date doesn’t meant that we can’t create and score goals on Sunday.
"Cork are the benchmark, both at Senior and Intermediate in the past number of years.
"They've been beaten in the past two Intermediate Finals so they know what it takes to get to Croke Park.
“But if we play to our potential, we will be hard to beat."
Doherty Woodshavings Antrim Junior final: Tonight: Friday September 7 (6.30pm in Cloughmills): Brídíní Óga Glenravel v Loughgiel Shamrocks
BRÍDÍNÍ ÓGA Glenravel are hoping to buck a trend that they started three seasons ago when they first reached the Doherty Woodshavings Antrim Junior final.
They lost that final to Cargin, but bounced back in 2016 to take the title at the expense of Dunloy, who in turn fought back to take last year’s title by beating Loughgiel in the final.
Tonight the Shamrocks will want to put last season behind them by bringing to a close a hectic eight days for both themselves and their opponents.
This has been a really compressed championship with Antrim’s under 16s qualification for, and then success in, the All-Ireland final leading to the postponement of both clubs’ quarter-finals until last Thursday.
Glenravel started four of the team that won the All-Ireland to beat Ballycastle on Thursday and then Creggan on Monday, while Mary McKillen played well for the Shamrocks in their wins over St Paul’s Belfast and Ahoghill.
Loughgiel won Division 3 of the league and came through the acknowledged tougher side of the draw and as a consequence will be slight favourites to land the title that slipped away from them this time last year.
Three of the side, Méadhbh McCormick, Anna Connolly and Rebecca Hargan, picked up All-Ireland minor medals with the Saffrons last season, with Anna adding a second medal this year.
Her pace had a big impact on the games to date. Along with Annie Lynn on the other wing and the experienced Joanne Gillan in the corner, this trio has exposed slow defenders and picked off the majority of the scores.
This is a completely new Brídíní Óga team; the medallists from two seasons ago have all moved to the Intermediate grade and will compete in the semi-final next weekend.
The under 16s provide the pace in their challenge with the inside forwards, Oonagh Ward, Sabrina Speers and Amy Traynor, accounting for almost all the scores, while captain and Kilkenny native Caroline McFadden is the leader of the defence.
It should be a good match – but the trend of the last few seasons should continue with last season’s losing finalists returning to celebrate this season.
Armagh Senior Championship semi-final replay: Friday September 7 (7pm, Athletic Grounds): Keady v Granemore
IT WAS a long evening in the Athletic Grounds last Wednesday and even after extra time holders and three-in-row chasing Granemore couldn’t shake off the challenge of Keady in the Armagh senior championship.
It means they all have to do it again Tnight to see who will play Middletown in the final on Sunday week.
Rachel Merry was the key to Granemore’s survival last week as the county forward shot 1-7 in the 1-10 each draw – and the holders really did come back from the brink as they trailed 0-6 to 0-2 after 42 minutes, both points from Merry frees.
Sub Corrina Dowyle was the only other Granemore scorer in ordinary time, bringing them level in the 9th minute of injury-time. Keady were also a point to the good in injury-time of extra time only for Merry to pop over the equaliser from a free.
So Keady will possibly feel that they were unlucky last day out. They produced a solid defensive performance throughout but should really have capitalised better during that period of dominance over the first 40 minutes.
They will still be underdogs for the replay – but very dangerous underdogs because of the experience of Orlagh Murrya, Sarah Molloy, Kerrie-Ann Tamney, Kelly-Anne Comiskey and Catherine McCooey.
Granemore though should make it through.