Swatragh and Slaughtneil favoured to progress but will face tough tests in Derry semi-finals
The Elk Derry Senior Camogie Championship semi-final: Swatragh v Ballinascreen (tomorrow, Bellaghy, 1pm)
IT'S eight years since Slaughtneil suffered their last defeat in the Derry senior championship. That was in a final pairing with Eoghan Rua Coleraine who won their fourth title in five seasons.
Since that 2014 decider, Ballinascreen have lost four finals to the Emmet’s and Swatragh, three. In 2020 Swatragh came closest to toppling Slaughtneil by taking them to a replay in the final. Last year Ballinascreen made the decider and lost by 1-14 to 0-3.
That was a disappointing result for the ‘Screen and so too were their two games in the group stages of this year’s title race.
Six weeks ago, they were caught by Lavey in the second half after dominating the first and then a week later played out a very defensive structured 0-10 to 0-6 loss to now semi-final opponents Swatragh.
They then had a three weeks’ rest before they returned to put an inch to their step with a comfortable win over Bellaghy in Ballinderry.
Áine McAlister again was their inspiration; 1-10 from frees, most of which were well outside the 45m line. She didn’t score from play, however, but seemed to break from deep to take possession off the shoulder and create the extra player needed against the sweeper Bellaghy employed.
Another who didn’t score from play was Jackie Donnelly, but she was still the go-to player and a constant danger. One feels that both will need to chip in with a handful of scores from play if the ‘Screen are to overcome a Swatragh side that looks fairly compact at the back.
The Davitt’s problem is that they have not had a competitive game in four weeks – since they sent Lavey packing with a double-scores victory. However, they are unbeaten for a while now and that includes a league final win over Slaughtneil at the start of August.
Dara McGuckin and the McNicholl sisters all carry a significant goal threat and it will be interesting to see if Micky McAlister and Andrew Breslin set up as defensively as they did in the group game, keep the score low and hope that they can snatch a goal or two to compliment Áine McAlister’s free-taking.
Swatragh are favourites to continue their winning run, but they might just have to grind out the victory against a packed defence.
The Elk Derry Senior Camogie Championship semi-final: Slaughtneil v Lavey (tomorrow, Bellaghy, 3pm)
FIVE weeks is a long time between championship matches, but if there is a club in Ulster that knows how to handle that gap, it is Slaughtneil and I expect that they will resume where they left off in late August with another slick team performance when they take on Lavey in the second of tomorrow's semi-final double-header.
Their last game saw them produce some scintillating team play in seeing off Bellaghy 2-19 to 0-6 in Emmet Park with Tina Bradley accounting for 11 of those points.
Despite the scoreline and the slick movement, it wasn’t a perfect performance from the seven in a row champions and they accumulated quite a few wides. However, as early championship displays go, it was still impressive.
They are somewhat changed since earlier in the year when they lost to eventual All-Ireland champions Sarsfield’s of Galway in an extra-time semi-final mud-bath down in Wexford. Neither Therese Mellon nor Shannon Graham have featured this year, although those absences have been offset by the return of last year’s manager Siobhán Bradley and the anticipated return of Gráinne Ní Chatháin.
The latter hasn’t featured since the 2020 championship final when she damaged her cruciate. She made a cameo appearance towards the end of the Bellaghy game and my information is that she has been flying in training and in challenge games and will make it very difficult for management to leave her on the bench.
Lavey have had two games since Slaughtneil’s last competitive outing, a double-scores defeat by Swatragh in a group game and then a 3-13 to 0-9 win over Eoghan Rua Coleraine after stumbling through the first half in Ballinderry.
Promising teenager Carla Collins put daylight between the teams during the third quarter with a goal and three points, while veteran Attracta Bennet’s appearance off the bench kicked the forward line into gear.
There were some very good moves out of defence into a forward line where Aoife Shaw seemed to be the lynch-pin, but over the first half hour there had been a sluggishness about their play and Eoghan Rua had taken advantage.
Slaughtneil’s off-the-shoulder movement is much more advanced and the greater experience of the champions will make it difficult for Lavey to get a real foothold in the game.
It should be a repeat of the league final in a fortnight’s time.