Slaughtneil camogs facing dangerous Ardrahan opposition
All-Ireland Senior Club Championship semi-finals
Sunday 2pm: Donaghmore, Ashbourne: Ardrahan (Galway) v Slaughtneil (Derry)
WIT Carriganore: St Martin’s (Wexford) v Inniscarra (Cork)
TWO years ago, Slaughtneil were a completely unknown quantity going into the All-Ireland senior club series, first time Ulster champions who came through on a wave of emotion following the death of one of the club’s guiding lights and father of three of the players the week of the provincial final.
But now everyone in the camogie world and beyond know who Slaughtneil are; three-time Ulster champions and back to back All-Ireland title holders, the team to beat.
Those two All-Ireland titles came with wins in the final over Sarsfields from Galway and many were expecting a third successive championship meeting between the two clubs.
Ardrahan however upset the predictions with a 3-7 to 0-11 win over Sarsfields in the final in November. All three goals came after the break just when it looked as if the holders were shifting themselves into a winning position with a lead of 0-9 to 0-5.
The first goal came from a 65m free from Rebecca Heneely and Ardrahan shifted a gear to strike for the line. Heneely was key to the win, not only because she scored 1-6 from frees, but more because she dropped back as sweeper early in the game and shut out the low ball into the Sarsfields forwards who had started brightly.
It was a similar strategy that Slaughtneil used in the All-Ireland final last year in Clones, with Louise Dougan winning Player of the Match for her role between the Cassidy sisters at the back – as well as driving a penalty to the roof of the net.
Ardrahan won the Galway Intermediate title in 2011 and went on to lose in Croke Park to Eoghan Rua Coleraine in the All-Ireland final. Two years later they were Galway senior champions and reached the All-Ireland senior final where they lost 0-6 to 0-5 against Cork side Milford. So really the past few years have been disappointing for a club on the up.
Heneely is a key player, but overall they are a physically strong side and will present the Derry champions with a different task than they have faced in recent years. Shauna Healy at centre half back and Ava Lynskey and Brenda Kearns up front are players that can cause them problems.
It is rumoured that Slaughtneil picked up a couple of injuries in challenge games they had in the last few weeks. Having lost three of last year’s team before the Derry championship and then working hard to place new players into the team they cannot afford to be going into the All-Ireland series moving players around to get the best fit.
Céat McEldowney, Brídín McAllister and Cliodhna Mulholland all settled well this year and put in good shift in all the games, particularly the Ulster final when they got their only real test since beating Sarsfields in March.
The core strength of the team is still held by the Cassidy clan in defence, Shannon Graham at midfield and Louise Dougan and Tina Hannon up front.
The jets of these players need to be cooled by any team with aspirations of knocking them off their pedestal.
The gap between provincial success and a January semi-final is always a worry.
Is the team as sharp as they were before Christmas, have they done enough work? Questions that can only be answered on the pitch.
This year Slaughtneil face a team that will be seen as the underdog, but they are a team that have been in Croke Park a few years ago, who fell from grace and now seem to have the hunger back again.
They are a dangerous opponent, but if the team from the foot of Carntogher deliver the performances they have managed at this level over the last two years, then they will get into a position where they can control the game.
When that happened in the recent past most other teams simply could get back into the game.
In the other semi-final are two teams new to this level of competition. Once Inniscarra overcame Milford in Cork, they were expected to push on and take Munster.
It took three years for that to happen however.
Likewise in Wexford Oulart-the-Ballagh won two All-Irelands in 2012 and 2015.
It has taken St Martin’s a while to break through there, never mind get past Thomastown in Leinster.
A hesitant vote for a Cork v Derry final.
All-Ireland Club Intermediate semi-finals
Sunday 2pm: Coralstown Kinnegad: Clonduff (Down) v Craughwell (Galway)
Cashel King Cormac’s, Leahy Park: Gaillltír (Waterford) v St Rynagh’s (Offaly)
THE beauty about the All-Ireland Club Championship in the Intermediate and Junior grades is that teams know very little about their opposition, and it is particularly true for the likes of Clonduff and Craughwell as the Ulster final took place on the same day as the Galway final.
Craughwell did not have to play a provincial championship as the other Connacht counties compete at Junior level and so their 2-14 to 1-16 win over Carnmore was their ticket to Kinnegad for tomorrow’s semi-final.
Craughwell had beaten Carnmore in the League final earlier in the season, again by a narrow margin and their championship, played on a round-robin basis before breaking into quarter-finals, was quite competitive throughout.
Clonduff have not been able to find out a lot about them and have been left hoping their own preparations will be enough to see them cope with any problems the westerners throw at them.
While Craughwell were defeating Carnmore, Clonduff were ending Eglish’s hopes of a third successive Ulster title with a 1-15 to 2-9 win that was perhaps a little more emphatic than the winning margin suggests.
During the second half, the Down champions dominated but hit nine wides. Yet they were still able to tag on enough scores to see them through to a second provincial title.
They were certainly a lot better than in their games in the Mourne championship where they struggled to put away both Ballygalget and Portaferry. Since Christmas the Shamrocks have had a number of challenge games and look to be pretty sharp particularly up front where the forwards are moving quite well.
A number of the team was involved with the Down Intermediate team that reached Croke Park and therefore they might well have been a little flat as they went into the domestic championship. However as they progressed they seemed to improve.
The experience of the Carr sisters, Paula O’Hagan and Jenna Boden will all be crucial in holding the team’s shape in the semi-final and guiding the younger players like the McGilligan sisters, Clara Cowan and Beth Fitzpatrick to deliver on the big day.
While Eglish lost an All-Ireland final to Myshall from Carlow a couple of years ago, it is seven years since Coleraine Eoghan Rua won their back to back titles. Otherwise Ulster teams went down at the semi-final stage, sometimes struggling to stay in the game after a faulty start.
Clonduff will focus on getting a good first half under their belts. In each of their Down championship games and in the Ulster final, they were well-placed at half time to raise their game immediately after the break and push for home.
In the other semi-final, Waterford side Galltír are fancied to come through against St Rynagh’s of Offaly. Their neighbours Lismore won five years ago and the senior county team are very much on the up, a first ever league win over Wexford last Sunday indicating how far they have come.