AIB All-Ireland Senior Camogie Club Championship Semi-finals
Mullagh (Galway) v Milford (Cork)
Milford are the apparently unstoppable queens of club camogie right now, just two games short of completing a rare three-in-a-row. Kilkenny’s St Paul’s have managed it twice, while Wexford giants, Buffers Alley extended the run to four. Pearses (Galway) and St Lachtain’s (Kilkenny) are the only other clubs to achieve the landmark.
There have been some retirements since the beginning of the odyssey, while Deirdre Reilly’s absence after a hip operation will be keenly felt.
Yet, having previously been accused of lacking bottle on the big occasion, Milford have shown their mettle repeatedly since finally making the breakthrough in Cork in 2012. There have been many close shaves in the intervening period but even when they haven’t been at their best, they have prevailed.
The Cork side, who have O’Duffy Cup winners Ashling Thompson, Anna Geary and Elaine O’Riordan amongst their ranks, won last year’s All-Ireland by a point and indeed, only had the minimum to spare when overcoming Douglas in the county quarter-final last year.
They were 15-point winners over Inniscarra in the county final though and with the Watson siblings (Emer, Áine and Maria) and Marie O’Neill sharp up front, beat Granagh-Ballingarry (Limerick) by 0-14 to 0-6 in the Munster final.
Mullagh know all about upsetting the apple cart though. They, in fact, can lay claim to preventing Glen Rovers from emulating Buffers Alley’s four-in-a-row. The Glen were champions when Mullagh beat them by a point in the 1991 semi-final, and they returned to the summit for the next two campaigns.
For their part Mullagh made it count and Emer Hardiman scored a hat-trick of goals in the final against Eglish to annex the title 24 years ago.
Rachel Monaghan and Sinead Cahalan are two of their best known players and given the competitiveness of the Galway championship – Ardrahan failed by just the minimum to Milford in last year’s decider, while Killimor were the victims two years ago in the decider, having been champions themselves in 2011 – it is evident that Mullagh are serious challengers.
Indeed, the manner in which they accounted for Ardrahan (4-6 to 1-8) to claim their first county senior title in 21 years was eye-catching indeed. This could be very close.
Oulart-The Ballagh (Wexford) v Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim)
AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Club Championship Semi-finals
Oranmore/Maree (Galway) v Lismore (Waterford)
Lismore are the champions, with Shona Curran having gotten her hands on the silverware 10 months ago but only after a replay against Ballyhale Shamrocks. Triona McGlone was the hat-trick hero that day and she remains a key figure of an attack that also boasts talents of the calibre of Grainne Kenneally, Aoife Hannon and Ruth Geoghegan. With Nicola Morrissey providing the ammunition, it is very difficult to keep them quiet.
They have held the whip hand in Waterford in recent years now, although they only had a point to spare over St Anne’s in last September’s final. McGlone and Geoghegan were amongst the goals once more as the Blackwater girls cruised to an eight-point victory over Sarsfields of Cork in the Munster final. The hunger for success clearly remains but they will need to be at their very best to advance.
Oranmore Maree are led by Christina Brennan and Sorcha Hanniffy and had three points to spare over Eyrecourt in the Galway decider. That represents strong form, even though they did get overturned in the Connacht final by Four Roads. The Roscommon girls were in peak condition though, as they prepared for the All-Ireland junior final, which they subsequently lost to Kilmessan of Meath.
The intermediate championship is in its infancy at All-Ireland level, with the first final in 2011, but Eoghan Rua were two-in-row winners before going senior and Lismore will have similar aims in mind. Unsurprisingly, there has been a Galway winner in the shape of Castlegar in 2013 and the Corribside representatives must always be respected.
Piltown (Kilkenny) v Clonduff (Down)
Clonduff have endured a circuitous route to the semi-final, having begun their campaign with a preliminary round game against 2012 county and Ulster champions, Ballycran. Victory there qualified them for a clash with reigning county and provincial titleholders, Liatroim. Again, they prevailed and just edged Portaferry to claim the hardest-won silverware.
Old rivals, Eglish (Tyrone) awaited in the Ulster final and once more, they displayed their intestinal fortitude when coming back from a seven-point interval deficit to snatch a draw. They completed the job in the replay and are now targeting further silverware.
Seven of the team won All-Ireland premier junior medals with Down last September and in the likes of the Carr sisters Fionnuala and Sara Louise, Karen Haughey, Lisa McPolin and Paula Gribben they possess genuine big-day experience.
They will need every bit of that experience coming up against Piltown. They are looking to succeed where previous Kilkenny sides have failed in this competition, by winning the All-Ireland. Indeed, the last two beaten finalists – Rower-Inistioge and Ballyhale Shamrocks – were Noreside teams.
Katie Power is one of the finest camogie players in the country and the former All Star will need to be shadowed every step of the way if she isn’t going to rack up a significant personal tally of scores. For a reference point, Clonduff need just look at the statistics from the county final, when Piltown steamrollered St Brigid’s. Power contributed 3-8 to a tally of 4-18 and only four of those points were frees.
They are far from a one-player team though, and in the likes of Kellyann Doyle, Niamh Culleton and Chloe Holden, have the armoury to trouble anyone. Just ask Birr (Offaly), Myshall (Carlow) and Camross (Laois), Piltown’s victims in Leinster.