Ulster sides look to make their mark in All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship
Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Camogie Championships
There are four tiers in the All-Ireland championships, Senior, Intermediate, Premier Junior and the Nancy Murray Cup. Teams playing in higher grades may enter a second team in Intermediate or Junior. There is promotion and relegation from each grade at the end of the championship.
The All-Ireland senior championship has taken place every year since 1932 and just seven counties have won the title – Cork (28 titles, last in 2018), Dublin (26, 1984), Kilkenny (14, 2020), Wexford (7, 2012), Antrim (6, 1979), Tipperary (5, 2004) and current champions Galway with four titles.
Almost 50 years ago winning the provincial championship to gain a place in the All-Ireland was abandoned in favour of an Open Draw and that has since been replaced around two decades ago by group qualification for the knock-out stages.
The camogie championships culminates in a triple-header All Ireland final at Croke Park on Sunday, August 7. The Premier Junior final leads into the Intermediate final and the afternoon ends with the senior championship final.
The Nancy Murray Cup final is on Saturday, August 6 with the winner going through to next year’s Premier Junior championship.
Glen Dimplex Senior championship
THERE are 12 counties in the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior championship, divided into two groups. The All-Ireland finalists (Galway & Cork) and semi-finalists (Kilkenny & Tipperary) from last year were seeded to have one of each in a group. The Groups are:
Group One: Cork, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford, Dublin and Clare.
Group Two: Galway, Kilkenny, Down, Antrim, Limerick and Offaly.
The top team in each group will go into this year’s semi-final, while second and third placed in each will contest quarter-finals. Bottom placed team in each group will face each other in a relegation play-off.
Ulster will have two teams in the senior championship for the first time since 1981. Intermittently since 1981, Down, Antrim, Derry and Armagh have appeared in the senior championship and Down reached the semi-final in 1999 but lost to Tipperary who then won the first of their five titles.
It will be a huge surprise if the semi-finals are not made up of the same four teams that made it through to that stage last year. The pairings therefore will depend on the results from the key group games (Galway v Kilkenny and Cork v Tipperary). The only team vulnerable to a shock result is Tipperary.
The semi-finals last year were very tense affairs and in the balance until the last few minutes. Galway should be there in August in search of three in a row. They are the best panel of players in the competition.
Kilkenny may well catch Cork out in the other semi-final but, unless a lot goes wrong for the holders, they won’t beat Galway in the race to get up the Hogan steps.
Essentially any of the other eight counties could start the group games with high hopes of securing a quarter-final spot, but could also end up at the relegation trap-door.
Last year Down could have beaten both Waterford and Dublin in group games, but ended up in the relegation play-off against Westmeath. Meanwhile Waterford, a team that had been relegated to Division Two of the league a month or two earlier, reached the quarter-finals of the championship.
Dublin or Waterford will probably end up in relegation trouble from Group One, while Down or Limerick are candidates from Group Two.
The Ulster challenge
Antrim have plenty going for them not least the fact that they been senior champions on six occasions, although the last of those was more than 40 years ago.
They won last year’s All-Ireland Intermediate championship with a flamboyant performance in Croke Park and most recently beat Down to reclaim the Ulster senior title. The start to that game was also excellent with two goals inside ten minutes and plenty of ball sprayed out to the wings. Defence was also super-tight in that Ulster final, and Down didn’t create a single goal chance.
However that was not the case in Croke Park a month earlier when they played Wexford in the Littlewoods National League Division Two final; opened up at the back in the opening 20 minutes and battling after that to avoid a heavy defeat.
Although they easily beat Kilkenny’s second string in Croke Park last September, they conceded 2-13 in that game.
The Saffrons played the recent Ulster final without regular midfielder Nicole O’Neill and defender Maria Lynn, while Maeve Kelly looks to be out for the season with a broken bone in her foot.
Kelly’s long term absence has meant opportunities up front for three new panel members, Caoimhe Wright, Siobhán McKillop and Maedhbh Laverty. All three have shown flashes of potential without achieving the consistency needed to deliver against the top teams.
The temporary absences of Lynn and O’Neill saw a reshuffle at the back. As a result play-anywhere Amy Boyle could find herself settled into a one-on-one marking job in defence for the rest of the season.
Last year Antrim found minor Áine Magill between league and championship and she added the little extra. With the minors successful for the last two years and the county’s second team also going well, there could be more treasure unearthed.
The Saffrons start their campaign with two away games and finish up with three games at home.
The opener against Offaly is a game they could well win, although they would probably be more confident had the game been at a north Antrim venue.
The result in that game should indicate what lies ahead.
A win, and expectation would rise that they can reach the quarter-final. Even a draw would be a good platform for progress. Defeat on the other hand could well leave them, like Down last season, struggling to find their rhythm.
If they get anything from Tullamore, then you would expect them to beat Down in the second game and all would depend on the final group game against Limerick.
Verdict: Antrim to miss out on a quarter-final, but comfortably avoid relegation at the end of the campaign.
Antrim panel: Cáitríona Graham, Amy Boyle, Chloe Drain, Katie McKillop, Colleen Patterson, Caoimhe Conlon, Laoise McKenna, Lucia McNaughton capt., Niamh Cosgrove, Áine Magill, Róisín McCormick, Christine Laverty, Caitrin Dobbin, Maedhbh Laverty, Caoimhe Wright, Siobhán McKillop, Niamh Anne Donnelly, Nicole O’Neill, Maria Lynn, Clare McKillop, Catherine McShane, Eimear Boyle, Ciara Laverty, Maeve Kelly.
May 21: Offaly (a)
May 28: Down (a)
June 11: Kilkenny (h)
June 25: Galway (h)
July 2: Limerick (h)
DOWN have survived a season in both the senior championship and National League Division One. They know collectively and individually what is expected at this level and will have prepared accordingly.
However, the recent loss to Antrim will have dented their confidence.
They were missing Aoife Keown and Dearbhla Savage for that game, while Paula O’Hagan had to leave the field with a hamstring problem after just nine minutes.
Shortly after the game, forward Saoirse Sands, a soldier in the Irish army, departed for six months’ term of duty in Lebanon.
Also missing long-term from last year’s team is experienced defender Karen McMullan and centre-forward Sara Louise Graffin, while the defection of Sorcha McCartan to Cork is another set-back.
The county’s second team, created two seasons ago to find new players, were well beaten in all their games to date and the minors also suffered plenty of setbacks – although the emergence of Ciara Fitzsimons has been a bonus.
Also on the plus side, the likes of Beth Fitzpatrick, Clara Cowan and Dearbhla Savage have all stepped up to the plate while Anna Rogan, scorer of the winning goal in the 2021 Ulster final, has recently returned to the panel.
However, the leadership and experience that the likes of Graffin, O’Hagan and McMullan brought in recent years is diluted and they badly need to return to the midfield pairing of O’Hagan and Keown who can get the best out of Niamh Mallon up front.
They have three home games, one more than Antrim – but they will really need to win the Ulster derby to avoid the slippery slope towards a relegation play-off.
The opening game against Kilkenny is really about damage limitation and getting some comfort from the result to leave them in the right frame of mind to get revenge on Antrim after losing the Ulster title to them in Edendork.
With two of their three match coming against Kilkenny and Galway (away), the result against Antrim is key to their season.
It would be hard to see them raise their game in Limerick after three defeats. And Offaly could also cause them problems.
Verdict: Down should get the win they need to remain in the top grade. Until the Ulster final on the last day of April, their recent history against Antrim suggested that as a game to target. But their performance in the final was poor. Like last year, they might have to suffer defeats before getting the satisfaction of planning for next year at the top.
Down panel: Catherine McGourty, Alannah Savage, Dearbhla Magee, Dearbhla Coleman, Blanaid Savage, Beth Fitzpatrick, Claire McGilligan, Paula O’Hagan, Clara Cowan, Cassie Fitzpatrick, Lauren Clarke, Ciara Fitzsimons, Saoirse Sands, Aimee McAleenan capt, Niamh Mallon, Cáitríona Caldwell, Anna Rogan, Isabella O'Hare, Aoife Keown, Maria McNally, Erin Rafferty, Olivia Boyle, Dearbhla Savage, Aimee Mallon, Rhea Smyth, Aoife Savage, Neisha McCullagh, Aoife McDowell, Frances Toner.
May 21: Kilkenny (h)
May 28: Antrim (h)
June 11: Galway (a)
June 25: Limerick (a)
July 2: Offaly (h)
Tomorrow: We take a look at the All-Ireland intermediate and junior championships