By Daragh Ó Conchúir
There is no debate about which of the weekend’s All-Ireland senior camogie championship games will generate the most comment.
Wexford host Cork at the Rapparees’ Bellefield grounds this afternoon (3.15pm), with the memory of having their league four-in-a-row bid scuppered by the Leesiders last month still fresh in their minds.
JJ Doyle’s charges are now pursuing an All-Ireland three-in-a-row, and while defeat in today’s second round tie would not prevent that from happening, it would chip away further at the aura of invincibility they have built up in recent years.
Karen Atkinson makes no attempt to mask the disappointment that followed the league final reverse. After all, Wexford want to win every game they play. Much like Kilkenny’s hurlers, they know the importance of inflicting psychological scars on their nearest rivals in particular.
“It was a major disappointment” said the Wexford captain. “It was going well in the first half, everything was going according to plan but Cork came out in the second half and put us back in our corner.
“We didn’t play to our potential in the second half but it was an unusual position for us. We were going for four-in-a-row but it was a bad ending.”
They returned to training the following Wednesday night, had a short discussion about proceedings at Semple Stadium, and resolved to do better.
“Training is going very well. There’s physicality there, there’s everything you need. You’d want to be on your game.
“You have new players emerging the whole time which keeps the other players on their toes. Everyone has to step it up. Last year we got to a certain level but this year we have to go another level again because every team is gunning for us.”
The 25-year-old is currently unemployed and has thought about the prospect of having to leave the country but she loves camogie too much. The captaincy is some reward and she won’t want for role models, with three All-Ireland winning skippers still in the team.
“Hopefully I can bring as much leadership and talent to the group as the other girls. There’s a lot of leaders on the team anyway. Ursula (Jacob) is always there, Mary and Una (Leacy) are still there, so if you’ve any problems, you know where to go.”
Atkinson, who also won an All-Ireland club title with Oulart-The Ballagh earlier this year, couldn’t help but be impressed by the Rebels but knows that there are plenty of challengers.
“Cork have a couple of players back with experience that strengthens their panel. Kilkenny have always been there in the top four with young, hard, physical players. I know it hit Galway hard losing two All-Irelands and league finals but they’re still going to want to be there and to beat us.”
Indeed, Offaly gave Wexford a fright in the Leinster final, having beaten Kilkenny in the semi-final, so no-one will be taken lightly as they bid to secure direct qualification to the semi-final.
“We need to be focussed for every single game. It’s a hard enough group. If you win four of your games you’re through to the semi-final. I know you have a chance of quarter-finals but you still want to win every game.”