Offaly eye third consecutive All-Ireland Final place
Preview by Alan Walsh, Offaly Express www.offalyexpress.ie
JOACHIM Kelly’s Offaly intermediate camogie charges are within sixty minutes of a third Croke Park appearance in consecutive years.
The reigning All-Ireland junior Queens defeated Waterford in the ’09 showdown at GAA headquarters, twelve months after succumbing to Clare at the same venue.
And standing between the æFaithful’ girls and a return to Croke Park on Sunday, September 12 is Derry. Offaly take on the highly rated æOak Leaf’ girls this Saturday at 2.30pm in St Tiernach’s Park, Clones and it promises to be an enthralling battle. The second penultimate round clash sees Wexford take on Limerick.
Offaly and Derry are familiar foes. They met earlier this year during the Division 2 National League at Cooley Kickhams and Offaly triumphed on that occasion by 0-15 to 1-6. Offaly went on to qualify for the League Final but their aspirations of success were scuppered by Wexford at Semple Stadium and indeed the Wexford girls also defeated Offaly by 1-10 to 1-8 in the opening series of matches in the Gala All-Ireland Intermediate series at Banagher. Meanwhile in the recent All-Ireland Minor æB’ semi-final it was Derry who registered a comprehensive 5-17 to 0-5 victory over Offaly.
After that opening round loss to Wexford, the æFaithful’ girls bounced back and recorded impressive enough wins over Galway (2-20 to 2-8) and Kilkenny (2-17 to 1-5), securing runners-up spot in Group 2 of the championship.
In contrast, Derry boasts an unblemished record. They topped Group 1 by virtue of a hat-trick of victories over Munster opposition – 4-17 to 4-7 v Tipperary, 2-8 to 0-11 v Limerick and 1-17 to 1-9 v Cork. In any language, that is a decent track record and Derry are going to be extremely formidable opponents.
Offaly were in Clones last weekend for a æfamiliarisation’ training match and in fairness the management team of Joachim Kelly, Ger Fogarty and Bernie Nugent will have left no stone unturned in their bid for All-Ireland honours.
A major concern for Offaly has to be that in all three of their group games they encountered third quarter difficulties, even in the two ties where they were vastly superior to the opposition. And if they haven’t addressed this issue then they’ll be in serious bother against Derry.
In round one versus Wexford, the Offaly girls stormed 1-4 to nil clear by the 16th minute but failed to add to their tally for 23 minutes enabling Wexford to seize the initiative. Against Galway, the half time score was 1-17 to 0-5 in Offaly’s favour but they eased off the gas and were outscored in the second half by 2-3 to 1-3. Finally against Kilkenny, after leading 2-9 to 0-2 at the interval, Offaly were outscored 1-3 to 0-4 during the opening 17 minutes of the concluding half.
If those third quarter lapses in concentration or lack of a killer instinct aren’t rectified, it could ruin Offaly’s glory ambitions.
Ten players have contributed to Offaly’s 5-45 round robin total – Elaine Dermody (0-15, 0-7 frees & 0-1 ’45), Siobhan Flannery (1-9, 0-2 frees), Shauna Flynn (1-5), Karen Nugent (2-2), Arlene Watkins (1-4), Tina Hannon (0-3), Michaela Morkan (0-3, 0-1 free & 0-1 ’45), Emma Dunne (0-2), Sheila Sullivan (0-1), Linda Sullivan (0-1). And the likes of Dermody, Flannery, Watkins and Nugent will need to be on top of their game if the Oak Leaf girls are to be overcome.
Offaly this year are captained by 2008 All Star and 2009 Soaring Star award winner Michaela Morkan. She took over the role from her Shinrone club mate Marion Crean and Morkan is a gifted player, with great wrists and excellent striking ability. She is flanked by Sheila Sullivan and Linda Sullivan and this trio all powered up-field to score points against Kilkenny. Their defensive skills will be sternly tested by Derry and no doubt they’ll be well up for the challenge.
Offaly custodian Audrey Kennedy and her full back line of Fiona Stephens, Lorraine Keena and Karen Brady will also need to be on their toes.
Offaly supporters making the trip to Clones should leave them-selves plenty of time as the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil is taking place in Cavan town.
If Offaly avoid lapses in concentration and perform consistently over sixty minutes then they’ve every chance of seeing off Derry and keeping their ambition of trying to claim their place in the senior camogie ranks very much alive.