Hurling & Camogie

Last year’s experience of Croke Park can help Derry turn tables on Westmeath

An under-strength Oak Leaf side lost to Sunday’s opponents a few weeks ago

Derry's run to the All-Ireland Intermediate final means Aoife Ní Chaiside is among those in the running for player of the year
Aoife Ní Chaiside has either played corner-back or started on the bench for most of Derry's league campaign

Very Ireland Camogie League Division 2A final

Derry v Westmeath (Sunday, Croke Park, 12.30pm)

DESPITE failing to win the final group game against Sunday’s opponents, PJ O’Mullan will have been pretty happy how things went for his new-look team over the course of the group stages.

In fact, he has managed to give all his panel good game time and has more than likely ended up with a few selection headaches.

The plus side of that, of course, is that he can look behind him on the line if things need changed and see a lot more players than previous who can make a difference.

Some of last year’s stalwarts have been used in different roles this season. For example, in almost all games Niamh Quinn has appeared at centre-half back, while the long term owner of the number six jersey, Aoife Ní Chaiside, has either slotted in at corner-back or come off the bench.

The following were not in the panel last year, but have featured prominently this year: Céat McEldowney, Rachel Donnelly, Megan Kerr, Bríd Rodgers, Olivia Rafferty and Jackie Donnelly, while two others from Slaughtneil have been battling with injuries and may also be available.

They are all players who have a lot of experience as opposed to youngsters coming out of minor and it is pretty obvious that there would be a lot of competition for places allowing the management to look at different combinations and options for change midway through a game.

The Dowdall sisters, Megan (four) and Holly, scored five goals against Derry in that final league game.

Both have been in hot form up front through the league campaign. They carry the biggest threat to Derry’s chances. But again, O’Mullan has some very good one-on-one markers who were either playing in other positions that day or watching from the stand.

Quite a few of them have featured at a higher level after Westmeath surprised Galway in the intermediate final of 2019 and they carry that experience with them. However they have not hit it off as a team since coming back down again from senior level. They have run a couple of semi-finals close.

It’s five years since they played in Croke Park. Derry played there last summer and probably didn’t really do themselves justice. The experience will stand to them, however, and they will want to prove themselves this time around.

There were a few games this year where Derry played extremely well but were very wayward in their shooting. You felt that a day was coming when everything would run for them and what better place for that to happen than in Croke Park.

They had a good look at Westmeath in that last league game; Westmeath learned little about Derry. That gives the Oak Leaf a great chance of consolidating a championship success with a league title eight months later.

Verdict Derry shouldn’t freeze again in Croke Park. They should win.