2022 Camogie Review of the Year: Loughgiel finally oust Slaughtneil as Ulster queens while Clonduff make triumphant return to Croke Park
THE improved state of camogie in Ulster was further underlined this autumn with the provincial club champions in all four grades reaching their respective All-Ireland finals.
Little changed at senior club level. The two counties involved each returned the same winners yet again, Slaughtneil taking the Derry title for the eighth time and Loughgiel making it nine in-a-row in Antrim. Both overcame setbacks to make the now annual head-to-head in the Ulster final.
Slaughtneil lost the Division One league final to Swatragh in early August. It was clear then and as the group stages progressed that the pair would be meeting in The Elk Derry Senior Championship final.
Even before the league final Shannon Graham walked away from Slaughtneil to later join Ballycastle and link up with the Antrim senior squad. Then Therese Mellon, who had been one of the stars of the Derry intermediate title bid, injured her cruciate.
Slaughtneil still beat Lavey very easily in the championship semi-final, but just before the final Siobhán Bradley broke her wrist.
However, Swatragh couldn’t take advantage. They posed a few problems in the third quarter of the final, but the holders finished strongly to claim another title.
Meanwhile it was touted that Loughgiel were vulnerable this year with three experienced players out on maternity leave. However ,they coasted through the group stages of the Antrim championship to make the final unbeaten.
Dunloy matched them in the first half of the group game, but failed to score in the second half. The pair were thrown together again for the final.
In very wet conditions in Dunloy, Loughgiel struggled in the first half and only opened a slight gap near half-time. Dunloy closed that gap early in the second half, but Annie Lynn and Mary McKillen picked off a couple of late scores to see them through.
Another Loughgiel v Slaughtneil final, this time in Páirc Esler and the Shamrocks got off to a flier with goals from Caitrin Dobbin and Róisín McCormick.
Although Tina Bradley pulled the Derry side back into contention at the break, Loughgiel pulled away yet again in the second half and won by 2-13 to 1-11 to end Slaughtneil’s six year reign at the top in the province.
Not content with conquering Ulster, Loughgiel went on to beat Munster champions Drum and Inch from Tipperary 3-6 to 2-6 on a frosty December Saturday with Annie Lynn, Caitrin Dobbin and Róisín McCormick notching the goals.
The final the following week was in Croke Park. The Shamrocks were hit by goals at the start of each half, but were still in the mix at 2-10 to 1-13 with 54 minutes gone. However Sarsfield’s, the Galway champions, finished strongly to retain their title and make it three crowns in four seasons.
At intermediate level, no team has come through to offer Eglish a substantial challenge in Tyrone and they yet again reached the Ulster Intermediate final.
Last year Down produced a first-time champion in Portaferry, but they lost out to Liatroim Fontenoys in a rain-soaked semi-final to relinquish their crown.
From the other side of the draw, Clonduff came thundering through and blasted the Fontenoys out of the water in a one-sided final. They had been missing the Carr sisters and Paula O’Hagan last season, but all three had returned from maternity leave and were improving the team with every outing.
Eglish, however, knocked Clonduff back in the first half of the Ulster intermediate final in Páirc Esler. But a late Beth Fitzpatrick goal cancelled out an earlier three-pointer from Ciara Geoghegan and the teams turned around level.
The Tyrone champions couldn’t break down the yellow defence in the second half and Clonduff won the ticket to the All-Ireland series for the first time in three years.
There they had a phenomenal semi-final battle with Clanmaurice who had come up from the junior grade last year. The Kerry side built up an early lead with a fortuitous goal from Patrice Diggins and it took some brilliant scores from Sara Louise Graffin to bring the teams to extra-time.
Again Clanmaurice started well but Clonduff pegged them back and the game had to go to a further session of five minutes each way. The Carr sisters pointed early in that period and a late goal from Beth Fitzpatrick sealed the win and took the Down side to Croke Park.
There they dominated first-time finalists James Stephens from Kilkenny, but never quite got far enough ahead to be comfortable. In the end they were full value for a three-point victory and took a second national title with Sara Louise Graffin winning Player of the Match.
At junior level we saw the most change.
Crosserlough got their revenge on Laragh United to get back on top in Cavan and in Derry 2020 Ulster champions Glen were comfortable winners. Meanwhile, An Ríocht were expected to win Down and did so with ease.
Granemore caused a big shock in Armagh going 64 minutes without a score from play and then ending Ballymacnab’s three-year reign with a late goal.
Loughgeil’s reserve team was the stumbling block for most clubs in Antrim, but Brídíní Óga beat them for the first time in four championship meetings at the quarter-final stage. The Glenravel team then overcame Cargin and Portglenone to take a first ever Antrim Intermediate crown.
A few weeks later they travelled down to Kilkeel and knocked out An Ríocht in the provincial semi-final.
The other side of the draw looked stronger, with two previous winners (Crosserlough and Glen) as well as Granemore, who had contested a provincial Intermediate final six years ago.
Crosserlough beat Glen, but lost the semi-final in extra time to Granemore.
However, when it came to the provincial final at the start of December, Brídíní Óga were the dominant team and took the title with a little to spare.
Their All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick champions Adare fell victim to the weather and was only played the week before Christmas with the Glenravel side winning an arm-wrestle by 1-10 to 1-9. They now meet Wicklow champions Knockananna in the final on the first weekend of 2023.
Eoghan Rua of Coleraine became the first Ulster winners of this competition last March, a dozen years after it was introduced. There could well be another title coming north in early 2023.
The Junior B championship was only introduced in 2018 and the Ulster winners have always fared well at national level with Naomh Treasa from Dungannon becoming the first club from the province to win the All-Ireland.
They and Lacken, whom they had beaten by a point in the Ulster final in 2020, qualified again and this time the Cavan team had the measure of the Tyrone champions.
Lacken went on to easily beat British champions Fr Murphy’s in the semi-final and then brushed aside Delvin from Westmeath in the final just before Christmas.
The Bridie McMenamin Shield has been the preserve of Antrim teams in recent years and it remained that way with Cushendall reserve team beating Ballerin in this year’s final.
The most notable event in this competition was that East Belfast won the Down junior title for the first time and then beat Killeavy in the first round of Ulster. Ballerin took them down in the semi-finals.
At schools’ level there was an all-Antrim final at senior grade with Cross & Passion beating St Louis Ballymena in extra-time. They competed well at All-Ireland level going out narrowly in Tipperary.
Another north Antrim school, St Killian’s Garron Tower, took the senior B and Junior B titles and went on at Junior level to win the All-Ireland title. They are now competing well at A grade in both competitions.
There were senior provincial wins at other grades for St Colm’s Draperstown and St Malachy’s Castlewellan, while St Malachy’s also won at junior level along with St Patrick’s Maghera, St Patrick’s Academy and Our Lady’s Newry.
While Maghera are still a force, the power base seems to be shifting towards north Antrim. School successes over the past few years have progressed to their clubs, Loughgiel, Glenravel and Cushendall all taking provincial crowns. Loughgiel and Glenravel have also shown that they can compete outside the province.
Antrim teams at school, club or inter-county level are all playing with confidence and seem to be setting the standards for the rest to meet.