Hurling & Camogie

New-look Down put their Ulster crown on the line against Derry

Oak Leafers are fresh from league final defeat and Mourne county are aiming for return to provincial final despite losing key players from last year’s success

Down's Dearbhla Magee runs clear of Derry's Dervla O'Kane. <br />Picture Seamus Loughran
Down's Dearbhla Magee had adopted a more attacking role with the Ulster champions this year

Armagh City Hotel Ulster Senior Camogie Championship semi-final

Derry v Down (Sunday, Owenbeg, 1pm)

IT is widely acknowledged by last year’s Derry panel and management that the Ulster senior semi-final performance against Antrim in Portglenone turned their season around and gave them the confidence to go all the way to the All-Ireland intermediate title.

Derry narrowly lost that provincial semi-final, 0-14 to 0-13, against the Saffrons who were doing really well at the time. But it also opened cracks in the Antrim set-up and a fortnight later Down exploited those to win back the provincial crown.

But what a difference a year can make! Antrim were in freefall for a few months but are now under their third management team while Down have lost key forwards that helped them win the title. Derry look the more stable panel, despite losing the Division 2A league final a fortnight ago.

In last year’s Ulster final, Niamh Mallon hit 10 points, Sara Louise Graffin three and Lauren Clarke another in a 0-15 to 0-9 win over Antrim.

Mallon, of course, is now with Galway, Graffin has stepped away from the county team after a long career, while Clarke left last autumn for Australia. Goalie Catherine McGourty made a big contribution to that victory as well before retiring at the end of the season.

Ciara Fitzsimons came off the bench to score the 15th Down point. The Queen’s student missed most of the league through injury, but returned to shoot eight points and get the draw against Kerry that Down needed to retain their top-flight status.

Derry manager PJ O'Mullan before the All-Ireland Intermediate final against Meath
Derry manager PJ O'Mullan is hoping his All-Ireland intermediate champions can book a place in the Ulster senior final

They are fairly solid at the back despite having to move captain Dearbhla Magee into an attacking midfield role to boost their scoring.

After their 0-16 to 4-8 defeat in the league final a fortnight ago, Derry would appear to have the opposite problems to their opponents.

Sixteen scores should win most games – unless you are leaking too many goals! Three of those Westmeath goals came in the first 15 minutes and sent Derry chasing the game. However, despite the wide count soaring, Derry were the better team from that point onwards, outscoring their opponents by 0-13 to 1-5.

The Croke Park game a fortnight ago will have been an advantage for Derry ahead of this semi-final. Down have not played competitively in four weeks. Derry are also playing in Owenbeg against a team that may not concede four goals, but are unlikely to score four goals.

Verdict The odds are against Down holding on to their Ulster crown.