BY NIALL SHERRY
Jack McGrath Cup awaits the winners
John Scott’s camog’s will take on Antrim in the ISPCC All-Ireland intermediate camogie championship final at Croke Park this Sunday (2pm throw-in). The game is part of a triple-header of camogie finals to be staged at headquarters.
Both sides will take to the field, confident of victory, in what should be an evenly contested affair.
When they met in the group stages of this year’s championship, the Ulster-women emerged victorious. The four-point win in Dunloy is unlikely to weigh heavily on Kilkenny minds as they make preparations for Sunday’s final.
During a recent press call, Kilkenny captain Roisin Phelan referenced the defeat and spoke of how it has helped the panel re-focus and improve to reach this season’s decider.
“I think we nearly learned more about ourselves from the Antrim loss, to be honest,” said the Conaghy Shamrocks defender. “We’ve improved massively since then, it was our very first group game, a couple of months ago now, so I think all the training we’ve put in since then has really stood to us so this time around we’re definitely more prepared to put up a better fight,” she added.
Phelan’s Antrim counterpart, Lucia McNaughton who was also speaking at the event believes an All-Ireland final against the cats will be an entirely different game. “Yes, we got the victory when we played them at home earlier in the season, but this is a final, and I wouldn’t read too much into the previous result,” said the Loughgiel clubwoman.
McNaughton’s family are steeped in hurling and camogie history, both at club and county level, and no doubt Lucia will be hoping to celebrate her birthday in style by leading the Saffrons to victory on Sunday. The team from the North will have the pain of last season’s final defeat to Down to draw on for motivation. Since assuming the reigns of the intermediate team, the management team of Paul McKillen, Jim McKernan and Elaine Dowds have Antrim on the right path, and they will provide stiff opposition of our ladies this weekend.
Having seen off the challenge of Galway in the semi-final at Clones, John Scott’s management team will have earmarked some of the opposition for special attention. Roisin Phelan will need to ensure her defence contains the threat posed by Róisín McCormick and Áine McGill – two very gifted attackers. Mullinavat’s Leann Fennelly was outstanding last time out, and will once again need to lead by example from the number six position.
Following the Saffrons win over Galway, joint-manager Paul McKillen was glowing in his appraisal of his sides victory.
“That is the best performance we have produced this year. That Galway team came here today to get revenge on the defeat we gave them in the league quarter-final. They believed they could reach the final,” McKillen said.
“But we were up for the game. I have never seen our team playing as well as they did today. And they have played well all year. They are a great bunch of girls and I don’t think they have got enough praise for what they have been doing.”
“We are back in an All-Ireland final and I think we have beaten one of the best teams in the competition and I don’t mean any disrespect to Kilkenny who are there in the final. Galway were well set-up, have good players and play a good brand of camogie.”
In their semi-final win over the Royal County of Meath, no fewer than 6 stripey-women received yellow cards in a defensive display that highlighted the teams desire to get over the line. Keeping the full complement of players on the field will be crucial against the glen’s women, so discipline will be key in this winner takes all clash.
If the Kilkenny defence can come out on top, the forwards possess the necessary firepower to really trouble the Antrim defence. Sophie O’Dwyer, who has excelled this season with a blistering scoring return, will be crucial in the cats bid for the title. The Saffrons will be aware of the danger that the James Stephens attacker poses to their aspirations. O’Dwyer will be ably supported in attack by Clara’s Ciara O’Keefe, Thomastown’s Eva Hynes and O’Loughlin Gaels Danielle Quigley.
In the middle third, likely starting pair, Laura Hegarty and Ciara Phelan will be hoping to control this vital zone and limit the influence of Antrim skipper McNaughton.
When James Stephens clubman was appointed manager, he immediately set his sights on getting this panel of players to Croke Park for an All-Ireland final. Having previously been a selector for a number of years, Scott’s understanding of the players is clear to see.
This final has the potential to be a classic, but at the end of the day, it’s the result that matters, and John Scott will be hoping to inflict more final misery on Antrim and in doing so take the Jack McGrath Cup back to Kilkenny for the first time since 2016. This team has ability, they have passion, they have motivation. Let’s hope they have the luck on Sunday.
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
Another final for Kilkenny’s Gaels. Following on from our wonderful minor team’s victory in Limerick last week, John Scott’s team take on the challenge of Antrim. At this stage of last year’s competition, the Saffrons suffered a heavy final defeat to northern neighbours, Down. As a resident of Mourne, I know how that victory was received and what it meant to the clubs across the county.
I would settle for the same outcome on Sunday – an Antrim defeat, but by God it will have to be earned. The task that lies ahead for captain Roisin Phelan and her fellow players is huge. Antrim did get one over Kilkenny earlier this year in Dunloy. But Croker is different. I’m hoping our camogs can use the wide-open spaces of headquarters to showcase their skill and ability.
Croke Park is the perfect setting for scoring sensation Sophie O’Dwyer to shine. The crowds will be there, the TV cameras also.
The stage is set. Jack McGrath – we’re coming for ye!