Cork v Galway, Semple Stadium, Thurles, 1.30pm, Sunday, May 3rd *Double header with NHL Final Waterford v Cork
Both teams have been experimenting throughout the campaign but still managed to remain unbeaten. In that sense, Paudie Murray and Tony Ward could not be happier with the way things have gone and of course now, they are one step away from a national title.
Ward’s Galway crew appear to be coming to the boil nicely after producing their best performance of the campaign so far against Kilkenny in the semi-final. The pace and scoring threat provided by Ailish O’Reilly, Orlaith McGrath and Molly Dunne has made them very dangerous, with Niamh Kilkenny and Niamh McGrath providing the ammunition and the likes of Lorraine Ryan, Heather Cooney, Susan Earner and Sarah Dervan providing defensive solidity. Niamh McGrath is a fabulous placed-ball striker too so Cork will need to be disciplined. As well as that, they can call on the likes of Jessica Gill too, most likely from the bench.
They began their campaign with a low-scoring draw in very difficult conditions against a progressive Limerick. Wins over Tipperary and Offaly were under their belt before they trounced an understrength Wexford by 20 points. There have been occasions when they have allowed teams back into games having held the upper hand and they cannot afford any reduction of concentration and intensity against the All-Ireland champions.
Cork have a 100% record, showing an ability to do just enough to keep their noses in front. Their biggest margin of victory from five outings is seven points, built up against Clare in the first round and Derry in the last. In between, they accounted for Kilkenny and Dublin.
The semi-final defeat of Limerick was a similar story, founded on an ability not to concede many scores. Rookie goalkeeper, Amy Lee made a couple of brilliant saves, while Laura Treacy, Leanne O’Sullivan and Rena Buckley were critical as a bulwark against the opposition’s scoring prowess. Industrious skipper, Ashling Thompson is vital in providing a screen as well.
Much like Niamh McGrath, Orla Cotter is one of camogie’s premier freetakers and has been Cork’s leading scorer in recent years. She is also a serious threat from play though, while Katrina Mackey and Amy O’Connor’s predatory instincts are invaluable. It is notable too that the brilliant Briege Corkery had a huge impact when coming on as a sub at half time against Limerick.
Cork have dominated the League since its inception in 1976 and are pursuing a 17th title. If Galway prevail, it will be their fourth ever; and first since 2005. Whatever the result, these teams have the personnel to provide Semple Stadium patrons with a rip-roaring final.
Laois v Waterford, Netwatch Cullen Park, Carlow, 2.30pm, Saturday, May 2nd, *Double header with Leinster SH Championship, Carlow & Westmeath, 3.30pm
Laois got off to the perfect start with a big win over neighbours Kildare and beat Antrim, Galway and Westmeath thereafter. A surprise loss to Wexford did not prevent them topping the group, which meant that they had Kilkenny in the semi-final.
They showed their resolve against the Cats, going to extra time and scoring a late goal via minor captain, Aoife Burke to progress. As usual Louise Mahony provides the lion’s share of the points. Niamh Dollard, Sarah Ann Fitzgerald and Michelle Holmes are highly effective operators too who must perform if the midlanders are to secure their first honours at this level.
Waterford are resilient too and that resilience was on display as they overcame the considerable challenges of Cork and Meath by a point and four points respectively. They beat Tipperary and Kilkenny more readily and were given a walkover by Down at the end of the group section.
Kildare provided the opposition in their penultimate outing but the Déise girls had eight points to spare. They are an experienced unit now with the likes of Beth Carton, Dawn Power, Nicola Morrissey and Trish Jackman crucial to their cause as they look to replicate their 2011 success in this division.
Carlow v Dublin, Cusack Park, Mullingar, Sunday, May 3rd, 1.30pm
Dublin drew with Roscommon in their opener but they were 2-10 to 0-6 victors over Carlow in Netwatch Cullen Park. What was impressive was the Carlow reaction as they produced the goods in a must-win game against Roscommon (4-10 to 1-10) to snatch the second semi-final spot, just behind the Dubs.
They then got the better of Roscommon a second time in the semi-final, although on that occasion, they had just six points in hand of the Connacht girls.
That set up this final with Dublin, who were much too strong for Limerick. Having lost the last two finals, the Metropolitans will be desperate to finally cross the threshold. They have certainly benefited from training under new senior manager, Shane O’Brien and in Elaine Gallery have one of the best forwards operating at this level.
Kerry v Meath, St. Brendan's Park, Birr, Sunday, May 3rd, 2.30pm
Kerry are looking to maintain the momentum that saw them reach this final last year, in their first season of League competition. Team captain, Sara Murphy is a big player for them, as is her Causeway clubmate, Patrice Diggin. In the group stages, they made a lengthy journey to Drumree pay off by beating Meath 3-12 to 0-7. Meath then beat Cavan and with Cavan giving Kerry a walkover, the final pairing was decided.