By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Meath and Derry cross swords once more at St Tiernach’s Park today, having battled to a draw in the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Championship Final at Croke Park last Sunday.
The six-day turnaround is sure to be testing on mind and body but after the proverbial game of two halves, perhaps it is Meath that feel like they had the best chance of winning on Jones’ Road.
That said, they were seven points down at half-time and never led. But they made all the second-half running and had a late chance to win it, the otherwise excellent Aoife Minogue’s shot from a free drifting just wide. It wasn’t an easy one but when you’re that close to glory, it always stings a bit.
Maeve Clinch made a considerable contribution in locking Derry down as Meath made their second-half burst and was named the official player of the match afterwards. The St Peter’s defender is focusing on the positives that emerged from the outing, although she knows that the Royals cannot afford to put themselves in the position they found themselves again.
Once they did so, however, it was notable that they found the mental switch to turn the tide. And Clinch makes it clear that it was about an attitude adjustment.
“We came into the dressing room and said, ‘Look, we’ve gone into a couple of games this year where we’ve downed tools, it hasn’t been our day and we just said we’d let it off,’ but in a final, you can’t do that. We all had a hard look at ourselves in the dressing room and said we wanna win it for the next person beside you. Even if you don’t think you can do it yourself, make those hard runs,” Clinch declares.
“We’ve been doing so many running sessions and so much hard work has gone into this year, are we going to leave it behind us for the sake of putting in a bit of hard work at the end?”
If there were days when they didn’t put their shoulder to the wheel, knockout fare has certainly brought focus, albeit belatedly at times, and Brendan Skehan’s players had already displayed their willingness to find another level against Armagh in the semi-final when also falling behind. If that implies a worrying tendency not to be at the required level on a consistent basis, that ability to dig deep when the backs are to the wall is invaluable.
“We had such an uphill battle to come out. We were seven points down at half-time going in so we were looking at ourselves going, ‘We’ve done it already this year. There’s no reason we can’t do it again,’ and we just gave it our best shot.”
As a group, the defensive players were particularly unhappy with themselves. That is certainly something they have been addressing this week but they did get a grip on proceedings at Croke Park.
In the first half Derry created space for their captain and centre-back Aoife Ní Chaiside to make significant ground with her runs and bring others into the play. It was a tactic they neutralised after the resumption and will be wary of today in Clones.
The big issue was a lack of discipline, however.
“What we’d conceded hadn’t been good enough. We needed to stop letting them take their shots. We needed to stop conceding frees as well. Try and stop the fouls and try and block legally.
“I get the easy job ‘cos I get to be the sweeper! At points it’s a more difficult one. Do I run? Do I go? Do I make the extra run for the pass? Also you have to be aware you don’t leave people to run through the middle. It’s a tough position to play but I like playing there.”
Interestingly, both teams won their sole intermediate titles in replays. In 2012, Derry prevailed by a point over Galway second time around. Five years later, Meath accounted for Cork by three.
So they may both view that as a good omen but for one of these teams, it will prove not to be a case. Unsurprisingly, Clinch is adopting positive reinforcement, even taking the draw as a positive given that the Royals lost the Very Ireland Division 2A League final to Kerry at HQ earlier this year.
“We love to go to a replay. We were in Croke Park in 2017 and it went to a replay. We can never win in Croke Park so we’ll see how we go. We’ll be ready.”