Hurling & Camogie

Down have enough to keep their place among camogie's elite

Lauren Clarke (right) has become a regular in the Down defence
Lauren Clarke (right) has become a regular in the Down defence

Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship relegation final

Down v Offaly (Saturday, Abbotstown, 12pm)

THE last-chance saloon for Down or Offaly brings the counties to Abbottstown for a high noon shoot-out to determine who remains in senior and who is relegated to intermediate for 2024.  

Offaly have already been relegated to Division Two in the league after finishing bottom of Division 1B back in the spring. They only picked up a single point – from a draw with Antrim – and lost to Down in Liatroim by 0-13 to 0-9. 

Down also beat Limerick in the league and the Shannon-siders inflicted a heavy 5-14 to 0-5 defeat on Offaly in the Midlanders’ last outing three weeks ago in their last group game. 

Down, of course, haven’t won a game since they took the Ulster title from Antrim in the middle of May. It could be argued that they were not expected to win as they had to face three teams playing in Division 1A, as well as Wexford last Saturday, a team that reached the Division 1B final. 

Those were all uphill battles for Paul Donnelly’s charges and, by and large, they acquitted themselves fairly well in all those games, approaching each with a specific gameplan and sticking to it throughout. 

That was the case last weekend against Wexford where the difference was the goal conceded in the 21st minute. Otherwise they stuck to the visitors right until the final whistle. 

Catherine McGourty is a huge presence in goals, constantly organising her defenders and helping them close out scoring danger. 

Dearbhla Magee has been their general at the back, usually in the full-back position, although Donnelly opted to deploy her in centre-back on Saturday. 

That she found herself as a sweeper was more down to how Wexford played rather than Down’s plan. 

Management seems to have settled for Lauren Clarke and Deirbhile Savage in the absence of Beth Fitzpatrick, who was paired with Isabella O’Hare during the league.

They are a hard-working pair that can provide possession for Niamh Mallon, Sara Louise Graffin and, lately, Saoirse Sands, the players who will get scores with some kind of regularity. 

At the moment Niamh Mallon is almost un-markable with 1-37 from the four games in the All-Ireland championship, and 1-13 of that is from open play.

Offaly will naturally be aware of the threat she carries because Mallon rattled off eight points in the league encounter between the sides. 

Offaly are probably not as bad as they appear from the scoreline against Limerick. After all they scored 1-12 against Antrim in Portglenone a month ago. 

Sarah Harding and Rachel Brennan will trouble defenders and take scores, while new free-taker Becky Bryant appears to be fairly accurate from the dead ball. 

Offaly will probably set up defensively with an extra player at the back and the aerial power and distribution of Sara Louise Graffin will be important, whether at full-forward or centre-half. 

It is an unfamiliar position for Down to come into the game as favourites to make the cut. Their last meeting was probably the last time the Ulster team was tipped to win, although they have beaten Limerick and Antrim in the interim. 

If they play as they have done over the past few weeks, they should get a better return at the final whistle.