It is easy to forget that at the beginning of the 2012 camogie season, Milford had yet to win a senior camogie title writes Daragh Ó Conchúir ahead of the meeting of Milford and Ardrahan in the AIB All Ireland Senior Camogie Final on Sunday March 2nd. An avalanche of success through the underage ranks and up the various adult grades had earned them the label of ‘next big things’, but it proved a difficult billing to live up to.
With each near-miss, the pressure increased, but they finally laid the bogey against St Catherine’s 16 months ago. Unencumbered by the burden of expectation, they embarked on a thrilling run that has shown few signs of abating. Another county championship and two Munster crowns have been bagged along the way, with the highlight so far coming at this venue 12 months ago, when they annexed an All-Ireland they could barely have dreamed of in the dark days. And now, they are an hour away from making it two-in-a-row at the very highest level.
There were different challenges this term. You wondered how Milford would cope with being champions. But they have shown their maturity and cruised to a second consecutive Cork crown, this time against Ballincollig.
They had Limerick opposition in the form of Granagh/Ballingarry in the provincial decider and once more, their defence laid the groundwork for a comfortable win. Having only conceded seven points in the county final, they were taken just four this time around.
The semi-final was their sternest examination of the campaign and Milford were very relieved to leave Donaghmore Ashbourne with a five-point win over Eoghan Rua.As usual, the defensive unit, and particularly the full-back line of Katie Galvin, Maria Walsh and Lisa Healy was magnificent. Ashling Thompson commanded the centre and up front, football star Deirdre O’Reilly, Marie O’Neill and Maria Watson grabbed the key scores. Throw Anna Geary and team captain, Elaine O’Riordan into the mix and they are a formidable outfit. They accounted for Killimor in last year’s final and are faced with Galway opposition once again in Ardrahan.
Like Milford, Ardrahan’s success is founded on a proper underage structure that has yielded a rich harvest of players. Their progress has been more rapid though, as it is only two years ago that they were in an All-Ireland intermediate final, which they lost narrowly to the aforementioned Eoghan Rua.
They have made the transition to senior camogie smoothly and beat four-in-a-row chasing Killimor – the 2011 All-Ireland queenpins – in the Galway semi-final. In the final, they produced their best stuff when the game was in the melting pot, scoring 2-3 in the final quarter to stun Mullagh and garner a seven-point success. That was a trend that continued in the All-Ireland semi-final, where a brilliant second-half performance accounted for Mullinavat on a 2-8 to 0-8 scoreline.
They trailed by five points at one stage in the first half but had that down to three by half time. Just as in the county final, Keelin O’Shaughnessy and Rebecca Hennelly were central to the fightback. Captain Rachael O'Toole, Andrea Mullins, Cliodhna Walsh and and Edel Holland are vital operators for Ardrahan also.
Galway camogie is on a high as a result of the county’s All-Ireland success last September and Ardrahan will hope to surf that wave of belief all the way to getting their hands on the Bill Carroll Cup. Milford are unlikely to relinquish their hold on the trophy too easily though.
It’s stand-and-deliver time.
AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Club Final
Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny) v Lismore (Waterford)
The Ballyhale Shamrocks name has long been associated with All-Ireland club success in hurling, with the Fennelly contribution to that glory a consistent factor. That remains the case to this day and with the camogie contingent now on the big stage, nothing has changed.In all, there were seven Fennellys on the starting team that beat Camross in the Leinster final and with more on the overall panel, the role of the famous family in all games Gaelic in the little South Kilkenny parish remains central.
There is more to the Shamrocks of course than Keeva, Mags et al, with Jacqui Frisby the rock upon which their rearguard is founded at centre-back. Catherine Crosby and Edel Frisby form a solid midfield pairing, while in attack, Lismore will need to keep an eye on Kellyanne Cottrell, as well as the aforementioned Fennelly cousins. Ballyhale showed plenty of determination to see off the Portumna challenge in the penultimate round, with Cottrell’s accuracy from frees keeping them in contention until second half goals by Keeva (after a devastating run) and Mags Fennelly cemented their Croke Park date.
Lismore’s journey to HQ has not been direct and it was little wonder that their hard-earned semi-final win over Liatroim Fontenoys was celebrated so joyously. They had fallen at this hurdle on two occasions in recent seasons, to such illustrious company as subsequent champions Eoghan Rua and today’s senior finalists Ardrahan. Overcoming Newmarket-on-Fergus in a replay to notch up another Munster title showed their durability and toughness this season though.
Aoife Hannon, Caitriona McGlone, Marie Russell, Nicola Morrissey, Ruth Geoghegan and Shona Curran all present very real challenges to Ballyhale’s aspirations. And with Hannon likely to punish any fouls, the Shamrocks will have to make sure they are disciplined in their defensive work. Hannon inflicted most of the pain on Fontenoys in their All-Ireland semi-final, a game that was much tighter than the provincial final because of the significant vagaries of the new Irish climate. It was significant though, that when the Coalisland crew reduced a five-point interval deficit to one early in the second half, Lismore remained unmoved.
They could not countenance another semi-final heartbreak and despite playing into a very strong wind, showed the benefit of the experience they have garnered over recent seasons to score the next four points and secure that coveted All-Ireland final place. Can the West Waterford outfit take the last, most difficult step now? Or will it be another All-Ireland party in Ballyhale? These pertinent questions are about to be answered.
AIB All Ireland Senior Camogie Final Sunday March 2nd
Milford v Ardrahan, 3.15pm, Alan Lagrue
AIB All Ireland Intermediate Camogie Final Sunday March 2nd
Ballyhale Shamrocks v Lismore, 1.15pm, Cathal Egan
€15 for adults
€10 for students/OAPs
€5 for U16s
Tickets available to purchase on tickets.ie, Centra & Supervalu Stores nationwide and on the day at Gills Ticket Office, North Circular Road and the ticket van at the Nally Square on Jones Road.
Croke Park Stadium gates open at 12.15pm