Camogie Season Review
BY NIALL SHERRY
Camogs story a case of what might have been
When John Scott’s side left the Croke Park stage on Sunday past, it brought to a close the inter-county camogie season. As the dust settles, the players and management teams will take stock and review what has gone before.
We should probably start with our senior team this week. Brian Dowling’s charges came into the action as All-Ireland champions, with serious aspirations of claiming back-to-back O’Duffy cups. It’s not an easy feat to achieve, but the O’Loughlin Gaels clubman will have known that his panel was capable of doing just that.
The training ground for championship action is the league, and our seniors certainly laid solid foundations in the Littlewoods Division one section. Victories over Dublin and Offaly were workman-like if not spectacular. Clara’s Mary O’Connell one of the newer additions to show her worth in the early rounds. Topping the group set-up, a quarter-final clash with Limerick in Birr.
In hindsight, the Noresiders bid for a first league title since 2018 should probably have ended that day. Limerick should have won that game. They probably would have; had it not have been for two magnificent saves from Piltown stopper Aoife Norris. Coupled with two Miriam Walsh assists for goals, Kilkenny just about got over the line against a younger and hungry Treaty County side.
The league semi-final saw Tipp roll into Nowlan Park. Again, warning signs emerged. Bill Mullany’s side brought a championship style intensity to the game and dominated physically for large periods of the game. In Cait Devane, they had a wonderful attacking talent and although she finished on the losing team, her tally of 0-11, we will be hearing a lot more from her in the seasons ahead. It took a 2-8 salvo from Windgap’s Denise Gaule and an uncharacteristic error from All-Star keeper Aine Slattery to turn the tie in favour of the black and amber. Final berth secured – and guess who awaited – yes… Galway.
Headquarters staged the Littlewoods League final, and for good measure, 3,000 spectators attended. Again, Dowling’s side had to dig deep and turn around another deficit. Trailing at the interval, Kilkenny hit 1-5 without reply, meaning the 3-point Galway lead was gone, our cats lead by five. When your goalkeeper is player of the match, that generally indicates defensive weakness. Aoife Norris was called upon again, several times to deny the tribeswomen. When the final whistle sounded, Kilkenny were crowned league champions. Winning at Croker is a good habit to get into and no doubt this group had designs on returning to the Capital at the business end of the season.
Sealing the league title was ideal preparation for the championship season. First up was the Banner in Sixmilebridge. A solid start to their O’Duffy defence saw Dowling’s team run out 0-22 to 0-16 winners.
Next stop on the road was Cusack Park and a game against Westmeath. Routine enough you would have thought. Darren McCormack’s side clearly hadn’t read the script. Trailing by 4-points at half-time, Brian Dowling rung the changes. The stripey-women would eventually win out on a score line of 2-17 to 1-11, but that didn’t stop the cats bainisteoir describing his side’s performance as the worst of his tenure. A timely reminder ahead of Galway’s visit to Noreside.
Both Kilkenny and Galway knew that they would qualify for the closing stages of the championship, but the direct route to a semi-final would mean winning the final group game in Callan. Despite playing with 14 players for 45 minutes in the battle to top their group and so secure an automatic semi-final place, Galway edged out a thrilling game with Kilkenny at John Locke Park, Galway secured a huge psychological blow against their main rivals as they overcame the dismissal of corner-forward Catherine Finnerty to pick up the away win by the minimum, 1-13 to 0-15.
The defeat saw Kilkenny hit the road again, this time to the banks of the Lee, where they would face-off against neighbours Wexford in a battle to reach the semi-final stage and keep the dream of reclaiming the O’Duffy alive.
Páirc Uí Chaoimh welcomed our senior camogs, and this was probably one of the most convincing score lines of their championship season. The young Wexford team never really got grips with their more experienced opponents, and our ladies racked up an impressive total of 3-19. Once again, Denise Gaule was instrumental and almost acted like an NFL quarter-back, dictating play and setting the tempo for those around her. As they boarded the bus home, thoughts no doubt had turned to the upcoming semi-final tussle with Cork.
All roads would lead to Croker again, but this time it was championship. It was a semi-final. While many had earmarked Kilkenny as favourites for the semi-final tie at headquarters, the rebels desire to reach their first final in three years was evident.
It was a rip-roaring affair, that could have gone either way, but over the course of the near 65 minutes, Cork probably just about deserved their victory.
Paudie Murray’s team were five ahead at the short whistle. Cork were playing with a great desire, hunger and intensity. Kilkenny were in trouble. Despite going to the well again during the second half, Dowling’s side couldn’t drag themselves over the line, despite Cork having the influential Orla Cronin red-carded following an altercation with Grace Walsh. On the final whistle, Cork erupted. Kilkenny plunged in despair. The cats grip on the O’Duffy had been released.
I think it’s fair to say that over the course of the season, our senior ladies never quite managed a complete 60-minute performance. Like we have said in reports throughout this season, warning signs were possibly there.
Following the defeat to Cork, Brian Dowling spoke of possible changes ahead, let’s hope that he remains at the helm next season, as I believe he is best placed to extract the best from this panel of highly talented camogs. The future is bright, and it can be black and amber.