Down must topple big favourites Cork to claim All-Ireland camogie prize
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Championship final: Croke Park, Sunday (2pm):
Cork v Down
CORK are strong favourites to land the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Intermediate title after defeat in the past two finals and an unbeaten run through league and championship this season.
They lost by a point in the 2016 final to Kilkenny and last year took Meath to a replay before losing by 0-10 to 0-7, but they have won the last two National League Division 2 finals.
They defeated Galway 0-14 to 0-9 in last month’s semi-final after winning their qualification group that included Down.
The introduction of minor star Cliona Healy in the second half had an immediate impact as she slotted three points in as many minutes, enough to put her side in control and she added a fourth later on, with Katelyn Hickey, Caroline Sugrue and the impressive Finola Neville also on target.
Down have had two home games against Cork this season, both defeats. The second, an 0-18 to 0-6 tanking in Páirc Esler, should have seen them exit the championship, but a draw between Derry and Laois threw the Mourne girls a life-line.
They re-grouped and came back from a player down and two points down with five minutes left in Rathdowney to win and then reeled in a seven points’ interval lead against Tipperary in the semi-final.
There is huge fight in this Down set-up and the tanking in July in Newry might just work to their advantage.
Cork, while clear favourites to bridge the gap to the last of their two titles in 2002, are bound to be more than a little complacent heading into the final.
But Down are dangerous and have a great chance of success.
That day in Newry they were competitive, but very unlucky, during the first half. A shot from Niamh Mallon came off the crossbar and Fionnula Carr’s well-struck penalty was brilliantly stopped by Aoife Lee.
Cork ruled the second half and Down lost their shape throughout the pitch.
Since then they have been very resilient, first to bounce back from that defeat and secondly to win games in the last five minutes.
Against Tipperary a number of errors contributed to the 1-7 to 0-4 interval deficit, but Down were the dominant team throughout and deserved the victory, even though it came late in the game.
Down have leaders on the pitch.
The Carr sisters, Alannah Savage at the heart of defence and the excellent Niamh Mallon up front. Niamh has been the scoring star of the campaign, adding 0-9 in the semi-final to 1-12 against Laois a fortnight earlier.
The introduction of another Portaferry player, minor Saoirse Sands, to corner-forward has also added a sharp scoring dimension to the challenge.
The county never expected the team to be in this position at the start of the year; difficulties finding a manager were followed by a disastrous run in the National League – five straight defeats – and then a change in management, definitely not the recipe for a run to Croke Park.
However the best players in the county were all available and once Martina Rooney got them pulling together and believing in themselves the team would make strides.
Cork may be unbeaten since last year’s replay. They may have Croke Park experience as well from the past two years. But this Down team has determination, hunger and leadership and that is why I believe they will upset the odds and take the Jack McGrath Cup home for only the second time in their history.
Down have appeared in three previous finals. They lost in 1992 and 1996 to Dublin and Limerick respectively before beating Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn in 1998
In each of their three previous finals, Nuala Magee (née McCartan) played in either midfield or centre back. Her daughter Dearbhla has featured in both positions on this run to the final.
When Down reached all three finals in the 90s, Armagh native Bernie McNally was team manager. Once again a lady, Martina Rooney, will be at the helm, something of a rarity in inter-county camogie at present.
Cork have appeared in nine All-Ireland Intermediate finals and only won three.
Down beat Cork to win the very first All-Ireland Junior title exactly 50 years ago in 1968, when they were captained by Moira Caldwell, wearing No 7. Orlagh Caldwell (no relation) wore No 7 in Down’s semi-final win over Tipperary last month.
The last Ulster team to win the Intermediate All-Ireland was Derry who needed a replay in 2012 to see off Galway.
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship final: Croke Park, Sunday (4.15pm): Cork v Kilkenny
KILKENNY and Cork have met in the All-Ireland senior final 14 times.
Each county has taken seven titles from the head-to-head, two of those encounters going to replays.
However Kilkenny have only won one of their 13 O’Duffy Cups since the golden era of 1974-1994 and that was two years ago when the legendary Anne Downey with 12 All-Irelands as a player headed the management team that finally made the breakthrough after defeat in six finals in a row.
Cork have taken 11 of their record 27 titles since 1994 and are strong favourites to add to that haul in Croke Park tomorrow. But like the Dublin footballers last Sunday, nothing is a given.
Kilkenny upset that form-book back in early May by completing a three-in-row of National League titles with a 0-15 to 1-11 win over Cork in Nowlan Park.
That game was notable for the turbo start that the Cats got, hitting the opening seven points inside 13 minutes. Cork recovered but in the end just couldn’t breach the gap.
They have followed that up with a sequence of straight wins in the group stages of the All-Ireland championship and beat a dogged Galway in Semple Stadium a few weeks ago to reach this final.
It took a goal in the 48th minute by Katie Power to pull Kilkenny clear but they were probably worth more than the 1-10 to 1-7 score-line given that Rebecca Hennelly drove a penalty to the net in the fifth minute of injury-time to create some late drama.
Miriam Walsh failed a late fitness test for that game, but is back in contention for a starting place while the three Farrell sisters from Thomastown will be hoping to stack up enough scores so that eldest sibling Shelly can raise the O’Duffy Cup.
There has not been much rest for the girls as Thomastown have won the last two Leinster club titles and trained right through the winter to prepare for the All-Ireland series.
It is difficult to remain fresh when the county comes calling almost immediately.
Denise Gaule has been Kilkenny’s main scorer with six from dead balls last day out, but all three Farrells are expected to contribute as well.
In defence there are some serious players such as Collette Dormer and Anne Dalton and their presence should close the game down as it was for last year’s 0-10 to 0-9 final.
Cork though have really impressed since that league final defeat, winning all their games with plenty to spare. Indeed only Wexford in the opening game and Tipperary in the semi-final shut out goals, but Cork still totted up 0-19 and 0-21 in gaining 12 points’ victories.
Recently married Orla Cotter went off travelling for a few months but arrived back in time to make the team for the semi-final in mid-August and she fired in nine of those 21 points against Tipp.
However her return was overshadowed by the appearance in the 58th minute of Breige Corkery.
Between football and camogie Breige has amassed 17 All-Ireland senior titles, but missed last season through pregnancy.
Her manager Paudie Murray was recently quoted as saying that her very presence at training has upped the intensity and he has suggested that she may well give more than a cameo performance in the final itself.
That would make a difficult task for Kilkenny even more challenging with the half-backs Libby Coppinger, Gemma O’Connor and Chloe Sigerson the key line in the team.
Sigerson was Player of the Match in the semi-final, veteran O’Connor moved forward to score the winning point last September while Coppinger, along with forward Hannah Looney, is looking for the football-camogie double over the next two weekends.
Cork have a lot of scoring options – and Corkery to come off the bench.
Unless Kilkenny get the start they did in the League final, I can’t see them preventing the Lee-siders taking the O’Duffy home for the 28th time in their history.
Liberty Insurance Junior championship final: Croke Park, Sunday (12 noon) Kerry v Dublin
IT IS difficult to comprehend that Kerry are making their very first appearance in Croke Park. But this is in camogie and the county is very much in the developmental stage and taking a step further than 2017 when they exited the Championship in the semi-final.
They will draw inspiration from their National League Division 3 triumph in April when they beat Roscommon by 2-8 to 0-4.
However Roscommon only topped their group by virtue of score difference but then were very impressive in their semi-final defeat of Roscommon who were in the same group as Dublin.
By contrast Dublin lost last year’s All-Ireland final to Westmeath and are hoping to take their first Junior title since 2006.
The Dubs have a 100% record with wins over Armagh and Roscommon in the group stage before a dominant win over Offaly in the semi-final booked their return to Croke Park.
They have been in a final in Croke Park before and should know how to win. Kerry’s first visit though could end in pain