Hurling & Camogie

Derry need to bring the hunger of semi-final win to claim All-Ireland Intermediate title in final against Meath

Derry's Lauren McKenna and Aoife Cantwell of Kilkenny during the All-Ireland Intermediate semi-final at Semple Stadium      Picture: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Derry's Lauren McKenna and Aoife Cantwell of Kilkenny during the All-Ireland Intermediate semi-final at Semple Stadium Picture: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Championship final: Derry v Meath (Sunday, Croke Park, 2.45pm)

A FORTNIGHT ago, I didn’t expect to see such a ferocious performance from Derry in the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Intermediate semi-final.

I thought that they would encounter a longer period of Kilkenny pressure than the last 10 minutes, although those last 10 almost killed off the Oak Leaf challenge in the same way as Cork had ended their 2022 season.

Derry had dominated the earlier part of the game, but conceded six points in a row and were in trouble until Mary Hegarty won a 45 and Aoife Shaw showed nerves of steel to convert.

They made no mistake in extra-time, outscoring their opponents by ten points to five, and were in the winners’ enclosure shortly after the break.

They will now feature on All-Ireland camogie finals day this weekend for the first time in 11 years.

Meath have been there just six years ago and, like Derry in 2012, won the Jack McGrath Cup but didn’t get the opportunity to raise it in Croke Park.

Both the 2012 and 2017 Intermediate finals went to replays, with Derry winning in Ashbourne and Meath in Limerick.

Four of the Meath line-out from six years ago started the semi-final against Westmeath a fortnight ago after Derry’s extra-time heroics had kept them waiting after the scheduled throw-in time. They are captain Ellen Burke, full-back Claire Coffey, goal-scorer Amy Gaffney and Player of the Match and dual-star Aoife Minogue.

Meath went into the game as underdogs after suffering a 10-point defeat to their neighbours in a group game. But they stayed the course with Westmeath in Thurles and Gaffney struck the knock-out punch with a goal in the 60th minute for a 1-11 to 0-10 victory.

Minogue is central to the Meath game-plan; a dual player and a great engine operating at midfield. She was the difference when the teams met in the last of the round-robin games in the Division 2A league, scoring three points in a 1-9 to 0-10 victory that put Meath into a final in Croke Park against Kerry.

Read more:

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They lost that final by 0-15 to 0-14, but played well and one wonders how well the Croke Park experience will stand to the team.

While most of the Derry players will appear in Croke Park for the first time, their performance in Thurles suggests that they will want to play the game rather than occasion.

Aoife Ní Chaiside of course is the exception. A teenage full-back in 2012, she has since captained Slaughtneil to two All-Ireland club titles, one in Croke Park, the other in Clones, and been back with the club at head-quarters on two other occasions, one of them a winning experience.

She is always rock-solid in defence and a calming influence on the less experienced players around her. However it is her forays forward that unsettle opposing back lines as they don’t expect to see her up in attack distributing ball to better placed players.

There are just four others who featured in last year’s starting team against Cork in the semi-final last month; Dervla O’Kane in midfield along with forwards, Máiréad McNicholl, Aoife Shaw and Player of the Match Áine McAllister.

All three forwards got on the score-sheet against Kilkenny, delivering 16 of the 21 points that Derry scored in their epic extra time victory.

It has been heartening for the Oak Leaf supporters to see how the team has confronted adversity through the season.

Injury robbed them of regular goalie Niamh McQuillan just before the Ulster championship. Lavey’s Niamh Gribbin stepped in between the posts and has conceded just one goal (to Antrim) in five games. Her defence can take a lot of the credit for that – but when she was called into action in the semi-final, she was up to the task.

The latest set-back was the loss of full-back Eimear O’Kane who picked up a leg injury in the second half of the match against Antrim. She was replaced by Leah Lennon in the semi-final and the young Bellaghy player really stepped up to the mark.

In many ways Derry face a carbon copy of themselves on Sunday – a team who can physically impose themselves on a game with players who run all day.

Verdict: Derry’s extra-time semi-final heroics were based on hunger and ferocity. If they replicate that in the final, they should become the third Ulster team in senior camogie next season. But I wouldn’t rule out a replay.

Aoife Ní Chaiside played for Derry in their All-Ireland Intermediate final win over Galway in 2012
Aoife Ní Chaiside played for Derry in their All-Ireland Intermediate final win over Galway in 2012


* The All-Ireland Intermediate camogie championship for the Jack McGrath Cup was introduced in 1992 and over the next nine years, four Ulster teams would reach the final.

* Down won the 1991 Junior title and then managed to reached the first ever Intermediate final the following year but lost to Dublin 4-11 to 4-4. Down lost again in 1996, before beating Cork by 1-12 to 1-8 in Páirc Uí Rinn to win the 1998 crown.

* Armagh became the first Ulster winners in 1994, a year after winning the Junior.

* Antrim played in the first 15-a-side final in 1999, but lost out to Clare. Two years later they returned to win the final, an all-Ulster affair with Derry who had got a bounce by winning the All-Ireland Junior title in Millennium year. And two years later again in 2003, the Saffrons took their second title.

* Teenagers Gráinne McGoldrick and Katie McAuley featured for Derry in the 2001 final, but were central to their 2012 victory with McGoldrick as captain and McAuley (now Katie McAnenly) a double goal-scorer (including an injury-time penalty) in the Croke Park drawn encounter with Galway. She shot 1-3 in the replay victory in Ashbourne.

* Current captain Aoife Ní Chaiside was a teenage full-back on that 2012 team and is the only player from that season currently involved although Niamh McQuillan was a sub goalie back then and, recovering from injury, finds herself in the same position this season.

* Meath have featured in just one final – 2017 – when they took the title in a replay at the expense of Cork. They have four survivors from that campaign six years ago; captain Ellen Burke, full-back Claire Coffey, semi-final goal-scorer Amy Gaffney and Player of the Match and dual-star Aoife Minogue.

* In 2018 Down lost to Cork in the final, but bounced back to beat Antrim in the Covid final of 2020 played at Kingspan Breffni.

* Antrim themselves bounced back in 2021 to take the title at the expense of Kilkenny whom Derry beat in the extra-time semi-final a fortnight ago.

* Antrim therefore have taken the Jack McGrath Cup northwards on three occasions and Down twice. Both Derry and Meath will attempt to win their second title.

* Antrim are the only Ulster team to have won the Jack McGrath Cup in Croke Park. Finals have only featured in Croke since 2010, while replays and the 2020 final took placed at other venues.

* Here is the line-out from Derry’s only Intermediate championship win in 2012 when they were captained by Gráinne McGoldrick

Derry : Claire O’Kane, Maeve Quinn, Aoife Ní Chaiside, Aideen Mullan, Aileen McCusker, Eilis Ní Chaiside, Meabh McGoldrick, Sinéad Cassidy 0-1, Gráinne McNicholl 0-2, Karen Kielt 0-5, Teresa McElroy 0-2, Shauna Quinn 0-1, Katie McAnenly 2-0, Oonagh Bradley, Gráinne McGoldrick 0-1. Subs : Maria Mooney for M Quinn, Keelin Bradley for O Bradley, Attracta McPeake for S Quinn.

*In the replay that Derry won by 2-10 to 2-9, Mooney started instead of Mullan and McPeake instead of Quinn