Hurling & Camogie

Derry aim to turn the tables on Antrim in Ulster senior camogie final repeat

The Saffrons just edged past their rivals in Edendork earlier this month

Antrim's Erin Coulter and Eimhear McGuigan of Derry
Antrim's Erin Coulter and Eimhear McGuigan of Derry during the recent Ulster senior final at Edendork. Picture: Sean Paul McKillop

Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship round one (Saturday, 2pm, unless stated)

Group 1

Antrim v Derry (Cushendall)

Limerick v Kilkenny (Rathkeale, 4pm)

Tipperary v Waterford (The Ragg, 4.30pm)

WHEN the draw was made for the groups, Antrim and Derry would have been fairly happy when they were placed in Group 1.

The added presence of Limerick in this group means that both Ulster teams have a good chance of picking up the victory that they need to survive in the competition.

The other three teams are title contenders; Kilkenny won it in 2022, Waterford were finalists last year and Tipperary won the Division 1A league title in April.

Therefore, tomorrow’s opening game between Antrim and Derry is crucial and the winners should breathe a little easier ahead of their remaining games.

Most people will fancy Antrim to win. A lot of things are in their favour; victory in the Ulster final, more recent experience of playing in the senior championship and home venue. But their meeting just a fortnight ago in Edendork indicated that there is very little between the teams.

That provincial decider was never going to be an open game of camogie, finals rarely are, and both teams played in patches.

The difference came down to Derry’s scoreless patch in the third quarter. Antrim got ahead during that spell and then sub Cassie McArthur took advantage when over the last 10 minutes play became a little more disjointed. She hit two points to keep Derry chasing the game.

Both defences are in good shape.

Although Caitrin Dobbin grabbed the only goal of the game, the drive through the middle from Erin Coulter forced Céat McEldowney to leave her to meet the danger.

Otherwise, Dobbin, Róisín McCormick and Maeve Kelly were all fairly well shackled and restricted to a combined total of just 1-2 from open play.

At the other end Derry’s starting forwards hit just two points from play against what was supposed to be Antrim’s Achilles heel. However, Amy Boyle’s return to defence added a lot of experience, while another Loughgiel star, Megan McGarry, did very well as an emergency full-back.

The key to the outcome this weekend will be how both sets of forwards can increase their output from a fortnight ago.

Nationally there will be a good deal of focus on the game in The Ragg between neighbours Tipperary and Waterford.

The stock of both counties has risen significantly over the past 12 months, with the Déise going from 2023 Division 1B league champions to beaten All-Ireland finalists and Tipperary then closing a 19-year gap to collect the league title in April.

Waterford, though, seem to have the upper hand in recent encounters. Although Tipp easily won the Munster semi-final between the pair this time last year, Waterford have taken three from three since – last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, in the opening round of the Very National League in February and finally a fortnight ago in the Munster semi-final.

Those two more recent meetings are Tipperary’s only defeats in 2024. They were excellent in the league final when they had a point to prove against a strong Galway side and they will come into this game knowing that they have another one to prove.

The third group game should provide the most comfortable winning margin of the three games.

Verdict Wins for Tipperary, Antrim and Kilkenny

Group 2

Cork v Wexford (Páirc Uí Rinn)

Clare v Down (Cusack Park)

Dublin v Galway (Parnell Park)

THEIR games to date this season indicate that Down are not in as strong a position as they were this time last year when they began a difficult group campaign in the All-Ireland senior championship. Then, as now, their focus from the start of the competition was on maintaining their morale until the relegation play-offs.

Down have been drawn in a most difficult group; indeed any of the three Ulster teams would find it difficult to avoid ending up in a play-off to retain their senior status if they had to face the five counties Down face.

Clare will have targeted this game. Like Down they have still to win in 2024. They lost all five games in Division 1A and were relegated. That was followed by a first-round defeat in the Munster championship. Down are slightly better in that they salvaged a draw from their league campaign and it was good enough to keep them in Division 1B.

Down’s most recent game – against Derry in the Ulster semi-final in Owenbeg – highlighted their most glaring issue. They are not scoring enough to win games. Defensively they are fairly well organised but an average of just eight points per game in the league and just five in the Ulster semi-final against Derry underlines the problem.

They did well against Clare last year. It was a game that they targeted to win and it very nearly happened. This game, however, is an away match and they don’t have the likes of Niamh Mallon to run up scores to keep them in contention.

Instead, Mallon should make her first start with her adopted county in Parnell Park against Dublin, who recently won Division 1B of the league.

Mallon’s cameo performance in the Division 1A final was enough to let everyone know that she is too good to remain on the bench – even though Galway have an array of forward talent.

Almost everyone sees this group being between Cork and Galway for an automatic semi-final spot, while Dublin, Wexford and Clare can scrap it out for the other quarter-final spot.

Verdict Anything other than wins for Cork, Clare and Galway will rank as a huge shock.