Hurling & Camogie

Experienced Clonduff plotting return to All-Ireland final

Beth Fitzpatrick (left) will provide part of a considerable Clonduff scoring threat against Clanmaurice in Saturday's All-Ireland Intermediate Club semi-final
Beth Fitzpatrick (left) will provide part of a considerable Clonduff scoring threat against Clanmaurice in Saturday's All-Ireland Intermediate Club semi-final

AIB All-Ireland Intermediate camogie semi-final: Clonduff (Down) v Clanmaurice (Kerry) (tomorrow, Kinnegad, 2pm)

CLONDUFF have travelled this road before, once successfully. In early 2019 they went to Kinnegad and defeated Craughwell from Galway in an All-Ireland semi-final and then it was on to Croke Park and an All-Ireland title with a narrow win over Galltir from Waterford.

The opposition may be different, but the plan is still the same.

Their form in the Down championship suggested that they were capable of executing that plan to make this a very happy Christmas around Hilltown. No-one got close to stopping them in their own county; runaway wins right the way through.

But they were just not as convincing when they met Eglish in the Ulster final three weeks ago. The Tyrone champions, who had taken the 2020 title from Clonduff, challenged them with enthusiasm in the opening half.

They defended well, worked hard right around the pitch and took their chances on the break and were well worth a three-point advantage coming into the break. Beth Fitzpatrick’s goal right on half-time most definitely changed the tone in the Clonduff changing room.

In the second half, they were able to control the play a little better, shut out the Eglish scoring threat and pick off enough scores to win.

One of the players suggested just after the final whistle that it was good to win despite not playing well. Perhaps. however. it was a case of not being allowed to play as they had been doing in Down. Clonduff were forced to dig deeper against Eglish and they managed to get through that.

In Down they would have known everything about their opponents. Even against Eglish, Clonduff would have been familiar with the key players, if not everything the Tyrone side could bring to the table. Clanmaurice will be a different problem to solve.

The Kerry side won the 2019 All-Ireland Junior title and were beaten in the next two finals before moving up a grade to contest Intermediate. They gave Eoghan Rua, Coleraine a tough enough game in the junior final last March, 1-11 to 1-10 was the final score.

Key midfielder Patrice Diggins was shut down by Megan Kerr but Jackie Horgan led the forward line well and was the main scoring threat.

In the immediate aftermath of the Ulster final, the Clonduff management was more focussed on getting their team to “play to their full potential” than worrying about a team that they had never previously seen playing.

There wasn’t the same fluency in Clonduff’s play in Páirc Esler as had been evident in the other games – but they did create a number of goal scoring chances, which were well saved by Julie Lagan. Had one of those early chances hit the net, it might have been a different type of game.

Clonduff are now the experienced team at this level and they have got to make that count early against Clanmaurice; otherwise they could face the same kind of pressure game as they did three weeks ago.

The other semi-final starts two hours earlier in Birr. The 2021 final featured teams from Leinster and Connacht with St Rynagh’s taking their second successive title with a comfortable win over Salthill-Knocknacarry.

With the Offaly team moved up to senior, James Stephen’s have come through from Kilkenny and there should be a close enough contest between them and Castlegar who were champions a decade ago.

Clonduff should be meeting Castlegar in Croke Park next weekend.