Loughgiel Shamrocks bidding for eight in-a-row in Antrim camogie final against Dunloy
LOUGHGIEL camogs produced an awesome team performance last Saturday to reach their eighth consecutive county final against Dunloy on Sunday (Ballymena, 2pm)
The Shamrocks have completed a seven in-a-row and, on the evidence of last weekend's performance alone, another title looks a nailed on certainty.
Of course it helped that they took control right from the start with goals, a valuable commodity no matter what stage of a game they arrive. These arrived in the second, sixth and 12th minutes and, after that salvo, Ballycastle's gameplan was ripped to shreds. They rallied and got into the game in the second quarter, but those three goals ended their chances of upsetting the odds.
The Shamrocks seemed to be set up well to deal with whatever could be thrown at them. Maeve Connolly alternated between midfield and centre-half back with Lucia McNaughton taking up the role of sweeper, Róisín McCormick in a much more loose role at centre-forward and Racquel Murphy a huge threat whether on the wing or at a more familiar full-forward role.
Racquel and Maeve were youngsters when Loughgiel ended Rossa's reign as All-Ireland champions in 2009 and there were others from that squad a dozen years ago who were still producing the goods on Saturday including Emma McMullan, Emma McFadden, Shauna Devlin and Charlene Campbell.
And yet Dunloy have beaten them twice this year, each time by a point – once in the league back in June and then three weeks ago in the group stages of the championship.
The Shamrocks got their revenge in the second league game to collect another title and will be favourites to break their neighbours in only the second head-to-head final meeting since Dunloy took the last of their 11 titles in 2003.
The other final was five years ago when Loughgiel won by 4-11 to 2-5. Dunloy though have brought in a raft of younger players since that meeting, and the majority of those players have come through successful under-age teams.
The latest recruits have been minors Cassie McArthur and Áine Magill, the latter a double All-Ireland medallist last month. And Magill's younger sisters, Bríd and Brónach, also minor All-Ireland winners, have contributed to Dunloy's unbeaten run over the last six weeks.
Caoimhe Conlon, Nicole O'Neill and Chloe Drain have all been nominated for national Soaring Stars Awards with former county player Aileen McManus also adding experience to the set-up.
Drain missed the group game between the two clubs as she served a suspension for an earlier red card. That Dunloy won without her, must give them a certain confidence coming into this decider.
Dunloy don't fear their neighbours and relish going toe-to-toe with them. They have made the games between them very competitive over the last couple of years. However, each time they have poked the bear, the bear has bit back with a vengeance.
This final has the makings of being a classic, one of the closest battles in recent times. But the defeat three weeks ago will have strengthened the Shamrocks' resolve. It showed last Saturday against Ballycastle and I believe it will manifest itself again
Loughgiel by a few points.
The senior final is preceded by the Junior decider with Loughgiel also involved. They play St John's Belfast as the Corrigan Park outfit attempt to claw their way back up the ladder after a couple of poor seasons.
Both semi-finals wins were claimed with ease. The final will be a lot closer and might well result in the Shamrocks getting a boost ahead of the main event.