By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Clare might not have emerged victorious but they confirmed the expectation that they will have a big role to play in this year’s All-Ireland senior camogie championship when going under by just a point to league champions Cork in the opening round.
Jenny O’Leary was the heroine for the winners, registering the last of her nine points from a 60th minute free to snatch the honours, 0-16 to 2-9.
Clare had defeated the Leesiders in the Munster final but anyone thinking that was a fluke result received a rude awakening as the Bannerwomen took it to their opponents again.
They led by 1-6 to 0-8 at half-time thanks to a third minute goal from Fiona Lafferty, who caught the sliotar from Chloe Morey’s free before providing the resounding finish. With Claire McMahon having pointed after just 29 seconds, it was the perfect start for Clare.
O’Leary opened the scoring for Cork soon after but when Shonagh Enright raised a white flag in the 18th minute, the margin was still four. Crucially though, it was the experienced Rebels that ended the opening period best, points from Julia White and O’Leary (two) leaving just the minimum between the sides.
Cork looked to have made a significant push in the third quarter with four points on the trot but when Deirdre Murphy doubled on a McMahon free to register Clare’s second goal 13 minutes from time, the sides were level once more.
That was the case on two further occasions as McMahon notched up her fifth point but O’Leary restored parity. Linda Dorgan edged Cork ahead but this time it was Lafferty who responded with three minutes remaining.
O’Leary showed nerves of steel to slot the winner at the death but Clare still had a couple of chances to earn the draw, only to find the outstanding opposition defence in no mood to yield.
Galway were clinical in dispensing with Offaly by 1-17 to 1-6 in Banagher. The hosts held the upper hand for most of the first half, with Elaine Dermody deadly accurate from placed balls. The tall sharpshooter scored all of her side’s five points, including a whopping effort from more than 65m.
Offaly led by two points with half time approaching but Tara Rutledge goaled and three more points suddenly gave Galway a healthy advantage.
The Tribeswomen added eight more points after the resumption to make it 1-11 without reply and that was enough to put the game to bed. Niamh McGrath was responsible for three of those scores from placed balls, while excellent midfielder Ann Marie Hayes added a fine brace.
Offaly, who were forced to field without the hugely influential Michaela Morkan, didn’t score for 29 minutes as Hayes, Regina Glynn, Therese Maher and Brenda Hanney shone for Galway. Inevitably, it was Dermody that finally ended the drought, finding the net from a late free before Orlaigh Kirwan hit Offaly’s only score from play.
Champions Wexford tore into Tipperary in the first half at The Ragg before recording a comfortable win on the same scoreline. Una Leacy kicked a fourth minute goal to send JJ Doyle’s charges on their way. Her sister Mary was an insurmountable barrier at centre-back and with Ursula Jacob slotting the frees in inimitable style (she ended with seven points), they led by ten at the interval.
Tipp introduced Cáit Devane and Sarah Fryday for the second half and they improved markedly. Ereena Fryday finished well for a goal early on, while Joanne Ryan, Mary Ryan and Caoimhe Maher also hurled impressively. There was no halting the Wexford machine however.
Kilkenny laid the foundation for their 2-15 to 1-9 success over Dublin in the first half as well. A blistering start that included an 11th minute hand-passed goal from Miriam Walsh pushed them into a 1-6 to 0-0 lead and they maintained that nine-point advantage to the break, with Aoife Neary, Michelle Quilty and Katie Power doing much of the damage.
Dublin were much improved in the second half, when they played with the wind at their backs, and Sarah Ryan struck the Kilkenny net with a fearsome shot eight minutes from time. Ciara Berkely finished with six points for the Dubs but Kilkenny had the last say as Quilty got the telling touch after a goalmouth scramble to score the Noresiders’ second goal.
Pictured above: Therese Maher (Galway) being presented with the Irish Daily Star Player of the Match award for round one of the Camogie championship by Miriam O’Callaghan (Camogie Association Árd Chomhairle)