Hurling and camogie

Slaughtneil take the fifth in Ulster while Portaferry make Down breakthrough

Celebrations as Slaughtneil lift their fifth Ulster Senior Camogie title in a row after beating Loughgiel in a replay earlier this month.
Picture Margaret McLaughlin

THE first ever national vote in late May sent shock waves through club camogie for the rest of the season and will affect the camogie calendar for the foreseeable future.

The 2021 season didn't get under way until mid-May due to Covid restrictions, but the proposed timetable for the season sent out by the Association was given the thumbs down by the Gaelic Players' Association.

That timetable envisaged a curtailed National League programme finishing in late June. The club season would then open up and run until late September / early October after which the inter-county championships could be played to a finish in early December.

A national vote was called and, by a narrow margin of 51% to 49%, the proposal for a split season was carried through. This meant that the whole inter-county programme of league and championship had to run to a close with internal club competition beginning after the county departed the All-Ireland series. Furthermore county players were not to be available to their clubs until the completion of the inter-county season.

In a minority of counties, clubs ignored the latter point and played their county players in club games even up to Friday evening, less than 24 hours before they were due to wear their county colours with the predictable friction with county managers. In Antrim, Paul McKillen and Jim McKernan reached a compromise by allowing those not starting in a weekend county game to play for their clubs midweek.

Elsewhere counties stuck to the rule and it had a devastating impact on club competitions. Club leagues became glorified challenge games with no promotion or relegation and, in some counties, leagues were abandoned completely. In others, there were long periods of inactivity.

For the more successful inter-county teams, i.e. the six teams that appeared in Croke Park in mid-September, there had to be a shifting time-line for inter-club competitions.

The minor All-Ireland final between Antrim and Offaly ended in a draw and went to a replay on September 19th. Club competitions could not get under way in those counties until the last weekend of September. And then county finals had to be completed by Halloween!

It resulted in a lot of frustration for both the club player and for county fixtures' committees in an already shortened season.

The format is here to stay however – but with the inter-county championship finals for 2022 scheduled now for the end of July. This should involve club players in more worthwhile competition when weather and pitch conditions are a lot more favourable than they have been for 2021.

Another knock on impact of the split season format was the shifting of the provincial and national club championships of last year (2020) to AFTER this (2021) season's club championships had been run off in the counties.

Hence my review of the club playing season should probably start with what happened during the last six weeks of the year before moving to the county title winners of 2021!

For the sixth season in succession Slaughtneil and Loughgiel met in the Ulster senior club final at the end of November. In almost perfect conditions in Ballymena, the teams played out a 0-9 each draw.

The replay the following Saturday took place in much heavier conditions in Glen and Slaughtneil continued their reign as champions with an impressive 1-12 to 0-8 victory with Tina Bradley scoring 1-6 and full-forward Sinéad Mellon registering four points in a player of the match performance. Had the game taken place when it should have some 13 months earlier, Bradley would not have been available to play!

Slaughtneil however could not reach a fifth successive All-Ireland final. They were caught cold in the first quarter of the semi-final by Wexford side Oulart-The Ballagh who repeated that start in the final to beat reigning champions Sarsfield's from Galway.

Clonduff were well beaten in the Ulster Intermediate final by Eglish who won their fifth title. As with the senior final, the Down champions would have been able to field a different team had the game taken place the previous autumn. Eglish may still have won of course but the Tyrone side was subsequently well beaten at All-Ireland level by St Rynagh's from Offaly.

At Junior level, Glen from Maghera, caused a shock by ousting reigning champions Ballymacnab at the semi-final stage. RandalstownTírnanÓg beat Cavan side Crosserlough, winners of the previous two provincial titles, on their way to the final. But the Antrim side had no answer to a late surge from Glen in the final that saw the Maghera side's captain Rebecca Kirkpatrick register nine points in a Player of the Match performance.

However, as with the other two provincial champions, Glen fell in the All-Ireland semi-final to Raharney from Westmeath who registered the last three points to win by 0-9 to 1-4.

There was better news in the Junior B grade where Tyrone champions NaomhTreasa went all the way to become the first Ulster club to collect the national title.

On successive weekends they defeated Armagh champions Aghagallon, Cavan's Lacken, Na Brídeoga from Mayo and Wicklow's Knockananna. All the games were tight affairs with three points being their widest winning margin.

In the Bridie McMenamin Shield that does not run to All-Ireland level, there was heart-break on the double for MagherafeltRossa. Not only did they lose the 2020 final by a single point to close neighbours Creggan, but on the Sunday before Christmas they lost the 2021 version by the same margin to another Antrim side, St John's Belfast.

The rest of the 2021 provincial and All-Ireland competitions will be run off over the first nine weeks of 2022.

There were suggestions that Slaughtneil would be under pressure in Derry after being taken to a replay in 2020 by Swatragh. But they swept all before them and emphatically retained the title.

In Antrim, Loughgiel lost twice to Dunloy, once in the league and then in the round-robin section of the championship. However when it came to the knock-out stages they comfortably beat Ballycastle and Dunloy in succession to take an eighth title on the trot.

There was change in Down however with Portaferry eventually building a team around the mercurial talents of the brilliant Niamh Mallon to win a first ever county title.

The first hint of the transformation of the team came when they comfortably beat Clonduff in a final group game that each needed to win to make it through to the semi-finals.

Neighbours Ballygalget had threatened a breakthrough over the past couple of seasons, but they had no answer to Mallon and co in the semi-finals.

Past masters LiatroimFontenoys put it up to the sea-siders in the final, but Mallon scored all eight points in a 0-8 to 0-7 win that takes them into an Ulster final against Eglish at the end of January.

Elsewhere Ballymacnab made it three in a row in Armagh, while in Cavan Laragh caused a shock by ending Crosserlough's hopes of a five-timer.

Schools' camogie only got up and running again in late September. The junior (under 16) provincial championships and the national Sevens competitions have been completed while the Ulster semi-finals at senior level will take place in early January.

St Louis Ballymena looked destined to win a first ever Corn Eimhear in the 67 years of the competition when they led St Patrick's Maghera by four points as the final slipped into injury-time. Maghera however hit 1-2 in the last three minutes of play to record a 2-11 to 3-7 victory and take their 12th title, but first in 11 years.

St Killian's Garron Tower took their first LiatroimFontenoys' Cup title since 2011 when they produced an emphatic performance in the final against St Pius X Magherafelt.

St Killian's also won the provincial Sevens' title for the first time. They then came within a whisker of reaching the All-Ireland final but there was better luck for St Patrick's Maghera in the B Sevens and St Louis Ballymena at C level, each team bringing the national title to Ulster for the very first time.

Elsewhere St Patrick's Academy collected the Senior Medallion Shield at the expense of reigning champions Sacred Heart Newry, while the other Newry school, Our Lady's, and St Malachy's Castlewellan collected provincial titles, both beating St Joseph's Crossmaglen in finals.

The 2020 provincial and All-Ireland club championships have just been completed and now the dates for the continuation of the 2021 competitions have just been released.

The Ulster senior club final is yet again a shoot-out between Slaughtneil and Loughgiel, the seventh successive final between the pair with the Antrim champions winners away back in 2015 and Slaughtneil ruling the roost since.

They will clash on Saturday 15th January with the All-Ireland semi-finals five weeks later and the national senior club final in Croke Park on the weekend of 5th/6th March.

Those are also the All-Ireland dates for the Intermediate club championship, but the Ulster intermediate club championship final will take place at the later date of Saturday 29th January.

Eglish wrestled the title away from Clonduff last month to write their name on the trophy for the fourth time. They will be face new Down champions Portaferry in the Ulster final at the end of January.

Portaferry beat Clonduff on their way to a first ever Down title back in November with the brilliant Niamh Mallon capping a fine year for herself by scoring everything for the Ports in the final against LiatroimFontenoys.

At Junior level, Derry champions EoghanRua Coleraine face new Cavan champions Lacken in the first round of Ulster on January 23rd. EoghanRua were the last Ulster senior champions before the Loughgiel v Slaugthneil rivalry began.

The winners of that game face Mayobridge while the other semi-final will pit Loughgiel's second team against 2019 champions Ballymacnab. The semi-finals are scheduled for 30th January with the final a week later. The All-Ireland Junior semi-finals will take place on the weekend of 19th /20th February and the final a fortnight later.

The All-Ireland Junior B final just before Christmas delivered a national title for NaomhTreasa from Dungannon. Tyrone representatives in the 2021 version next month in Ulster will be Derrylaughan who will face Cullyhanna on Sunday 16th January.

The other semi-final on the same day sees 2018 champions Clontibret up against Castletara from Cavan with the Ulster final the following weekend and the All-Ireland semi-finals and final following the same dates as the Junior A programme.

Senior club championship

Saturday 15th January

Ulster Senior club final: Slaughtneil v Loughgiel

19th / 20th February

All-Ireland Senior club semi-finals

5th /6th March

All-Ireland Senior club final

Intermediate club championship

Saturday 29th January

Ulster Intermediate club final 2021 :Portaferry v Eglish

19th / 20th February

All-Ireland Intermediate club semi-finals

5th /6th March

All-Ireland Intermediate club final

Junior club championship

Sunday 23rd January

Ulster Junior quarter-final: EoghanRua v Lacken

Sunday 30th January

Ulster Junior semi-finals 2021

Mayobridge v 1

Ballymacnab v Loughgiel

Sunday 6th February

Ulster Junior final

19th / 20th February

All-Ireland Junior club semi-finals

5th /6th March

All-Ireland Junior club final

Junior B club championship

Sunday 16th January

Ulster Junior B semi-finals 2021

Clontibret v Castletara

Derrylaughan v Cullyhanna

Saturday 22nd January

Ulster Junior B final

19th / 20th February

All-Ireland Junior club semi-finals

5th /6th March

All-Ireland Junior club final

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Hurling and camogie