Familiar rivals Slaughtneil and Loughgiel meet again
Ulster Senior Club Camogie Championship Final (Sunday, 1pm, Páirc Esler): Loughgiel (Antrim) v Slaughtneil (Derry) (holders)
MANY have opined over the past three months that neither three-in-a-row All-Ireland champions Slaughtneil nor challengers Loughgiel are as strong as they have been over the last four seasons when they played out intense, exciting Ulster finals.
Yet both have come through their county title-race with relative ease; they never looked like being beaten, although admittedly they were given stiffer challenges than in any of the previous years.
Dunloy were expected to run Loughgiel fairly close after they lost the Feis final in July by a single point and that happened on a wet windy night in Ballycastle. Nicole O’Neill scored from a penalty to put Dunloy ahead early in the second half.
However two goals inside 60 seconds from Caitrin Dobbin and then Christine Laverty turned the game back in favour of the Shamrocks and Lucia McNaughton added a third in the 41st minute to put them 4-6 to 1-7 ahead and from there they were able to hold out for a five points’ victory.
The previous finals against Ballycastle in 2015 and 2017 had both been very one-sided games and this year’s was supposed to follow the same pattern. It didn’t, with Ballycastle staying with the six-in-a-row chasing Shamrocks throughout.
It finished 2-10 to 1-9, but Loughgiel only scored two points in the second half and Megan Coyle saved a penalty five minutes from time to retain the title.
Having said that, Loughgiel led by 2-6 to 0-3 after 20 minutes and seemed to be coasting, until Ballycastle’s goal arrested their progress.
Maeve Connolly was superb at centre-half back for the winners, sweeping across the line as Ballycastle withdrew players to win ball around midfield. The scoring threat that all the forwards carried was well controlled but Caitrin Dobbin again made the difference with two goals and a point.
However the Antrim champions will be a little worried that some of those top forwards were well shackled in those two games.
Slaughtneil were experiencing the same problem in the Derry semi-final and final. Swatragh held them scoreless for most of the second half in the semi in Magherafelt although the Emmett’s hit three points late on for a 1-12 to 0-9 score-line.
And Ballinascreen closed them down enough in the final (0-11 to 0-3) but couldn’t muster enough fire-power to halt the five in a row.
So both teams have experienced improved defensive set-ups from their main rivals within their counties – but none were able to break their own defensive set-ups often enough to put their titles in danger.
Of the pair, Slaughtneil will probably be happier with that statistics in that their back-line shows several changes from last March when they completed a third successful All-Ireland run.
Gone are two of the three Cassidy sisters to be replaced by Éilis and Clare McGrath. Clare admittedly is an experienced player who captained them to the 2018 All-Ireland title but missed last season on maternity leave.
Louise Dougan still provides an excellent shield as sweeper in front of her full-back and it is no coincidence that Slaughtneil have not conceded a goal last season or this one. However Louise, who is also a very accurate forward, might be needed to push further forward if the Loughgiel defence follow the template of Swatragh and Ballinascreen in curtailing the strong runs of Tina Bradley (née Hannon), Siobhan Bradley and, from deeper, Shannon Graham.
Neither of the two teams are coming into the final with the same strong runs as last year when Slaughtneil controlled the game and Loughgiel simply could not get going.
Loughgiel will always have a great chance of winning their fifth Ulster title. It should be another tight game, possibly as low-scoring as last year, but Slaughtneil’s experience, particularly in holding out in tight encounters, should see them make it four in a row.
AIB All-Ireland Junior Club Championship semi-finals
Banagher : Clanmaurice (Kerry) v St Brenda’s Ballymcnab (Armagh)
Athlone : Raharney (Westmeath) v St. Dominic’s (Roscommon)
WHEN Kerry won the All-Ireland Junior title in Croke Park in September all but one of their panel of 27 players were representing the Clanmaurice club.
Newly-crowned Ulster Junior champions Ballymacnab face those same players in their All-Ireland semi-final in Kinnegad tomorrow. However “club” is a little bit inaccurate when it comes to describing Clanmaurice.
There was no senior club league in Kerry a few years ago and relatively little under-age camogie. However a number of players across the north of the county, mainly in the hurling clubs, had played for the boys up until they turned 14 and later in university picked up the game once more.
That scattered group came together to represent Kerry at inter-county level and then formed a club team to contest the Munster Junior championship.
This is their third attempt at an All-Ireland title and, given their progress over the past three seasons, they are strong favourites to make it over the line with Patrice Diggin a dominant figure in midfield and from frees.
Ballymacnab found themselves contesting an Ulster final with Banagher on a Friday evening and then, less than 48 hours later, taking on Tara from London in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Glenavy.
They survived both challenges and are the better as a team for that with Tierna Maguire, Louise Toner and the Crillys a force in defence while Eimear Smyth is totting up good scoring totals.
However taking on what is basically a county team that has experienced success in Croke Park is a huge challenge for them. Experience and success is a potent combination and Ballymacnab’s great season could well run to ground as a result.
AIB All Ireland Junior B Club Championship semi-finals
1.30pm : Ballinasloe : John Mitchell’s (Britain) v Na Brideoga (Mayo)
2pm : Kinnegad : Cullion (Westmeath) v Denn (Cavan)
DENN won an exciting Ulster Junior B final just before Halloween, beating defending champions Clontibret 3-15 to 5-3 – coming from behind again and again as the Monaghan side got through for goals.
The scoring ability of the three Fitzsimmons sisters however pulled them through; full-back Rebecca burst forward for a second half point, Hannah, the youngest at midfield, scored 1-5 from play, while Shanise at centre-forward matched that and added four more points from frees.
That accounts for 2-15, the other goal scored at the start of the second half by Deirdre Reilly to put them ahead for the first time.
Hannah looks a huge prospect at just 16 and deservedly picking up a provincial schools’ All-star last month, while Shanise, an All-star in 2017, has been progressing well with NUI Maynooth on the Higher Education front.
All-Ireland semi-final opponents Cullion however are a more experienced team than Clontibret with three or four players who were on the Westmeath panel that won the All-Ireland Intermediate final in September.
Goalie Fiona Keating is the county’s regular goalie for several years now, while Michelle Buckley and Emma Broughan were panel members right through the campaign – and Edel Conaty was there during the league campaign.
Even though the outfield players didn’t actually get much playing time, they will have gained a lot in experience and this will be useful in putting together a game plan to counter act the influence of the Fitzsimons sisters.
If Cullion can close down that sibling threat, they will be well on their way to claiming a place in the All-Ireland final.
The second semi-final sees British title-holders John Mitchel’s playing Mayo’s Na Brideoga.