There is a bit of the little girl with the little curl about the Derry camogs. When they are good, they are very, very good. But when they are bad? Well, you know the rest.
No one is more aware of the touch of Jekyll and Hyde about the Oak Leafers than their manager, Martin Coulter. The former Down hurler had to deliver a few stern messages at half-time in Saturday’s Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Intermediate Championship quarter-final at MW Hire O’Moore Park and they certainly elicited the desired response as Derry quickly assumed control eventually powering to a 1-23 to 1-10 victory over a hard-working Dublin.
They were joined in the last four by Meath, who also overcame a slow opening before racing away form Kerry by 2-17 to 1-7, with the quartet completed by group winners Galway and Cork.
Experienced former All-Star nominee Siobhán Kehoe, Ciara Holland and Ellen Dunphy excelled as Dublin moved into an early four-point lead and they still led by one at the interval, but Áine McAllister (photographed above showing the Dublin cover a clean pair of heels), Mairéad McNicholl, Aoife Shaw and Shannon O’Doherty led the charge thereafter, McAllister finishing with eight points, five from play and doing the spadework for Shaw’s goal which sealed the deal despite Holland’s major for the Dubs.
“You seen both sides of Derry camogie there today,” said Coulter of a team that only missed out on direct qualification to the last four on score difference, having actually beaten Cork but suffered a surprise defeat to Kilkenny. “You seen the first half that wouldn’t trouble anybody and then you seen the second half where we just like a different team.
“Dublin did very well. You have to give them a lot of credit. They messed us up a bit with their set-up and then they threw everything at us in the first half. It took us a while to get settled down again and get our structure back in place.
“We had a chat at half-time about who was to sweep and how to use the ball a bit better and I thought the forwards played a lot better in the second half. I’m calm now but it maybe was a bit more heated in the changing room! I didn’t really need to go in on the girls. They knew they’d underperformed. You’re not brilliant every day you go out on the field and in fairness to them, they dug it out and were exceptional in the second half.
“The week before we scored 3-4 against Wexford in 13 minutes and never scored the rest of the half. It is a concern. We travelled to Wexford the same day and thought it was the journey so we went down to Portlaoise last (Friday) night. Two games where we’ve been slow to start isn’t ideal but we’ve got to the semi-final so you’ve got to be happy with that and there’s plenty to work on going forward.
“If we turn up playing like we did in the first half we’d beat none of the teams left in it and if we play for 60 minutes like we did in the second half I think we’re a hard day’s work for anybody. But we have to make sure we get 60 minutes out of it.
“As much as you’re disappointed with the first half and delighted with the second, the whole goal was to get to the last four. Derry haven’t been in a semi-final in nine or ten years. We’ve made a bit of progress now, the pressure’s off and we can really cut loose and see where it takes us.
“They’re a great bunch of girls. When you’ve been in the wilderness a number of years it’s hard to get excited about it. Hopefully now they’ve made the semi-final, there is a big buzz about them. They’re all role models for kids.”
It has been a wonderful few years for Ulster camogie, with Down and Antrim now established at senior level and from a Derry perspective, Slaughtneil and Eoghan Rua winning All-Ireland club titles.
“A rising tide lifts all boats. We’ve seen Antrim win (the intermediate last year) and Down the year before. Down beat ourselves in an Ulster Championship in extra time by a point so we know we’re about that level. It’s just the consistency of performance we’re missing. But there’s amazing character. When the chips are down, they keep coming and coming and that’s a really great treat they have.
“We have a couple missing today that will be back. Aoife (Ní Chaiside) was a real big name missing. Hopefully she’ll be back for the semi-final and we’ll have a clean bill of health. Aoife is a great leader as well as a great player and great in the group and hopefully she’ll be back training with us this week.”
In the second quarter-final at Portlaoise, Kerry and Meath shared the opening six points but with the indefatiguable Jane Dolan in accurate shooting form, on her way to an eight-point tally, the Royals led by six at the break.
A brilliant goal by Caoimhe Spillane helped Kerry keep in touch but Aoife Minogue drilled home two fantastic goals in response and Brendan Skehan’s troops eased clear of their gritty opponents.
“We need to start stronger,” Skehan asserted when speaking on LMFM. “We need to get a bit more clinical with the amount of ball we got into the forwards. We didn’t start sharp enough but we settled into it well.
“Even when Kerry goaled, I knew we were playing well. No disrespect to Kerry, I didn’t see them getting back into it. I was confident that we’d kick on.”
Skehan joked that he has been telling Minogue to hit her shots into the ground in front of the ‘keeper but had little issue with her ignoring his instructions once she found the net.
For her part, Minogue was focusing on getting over what has been a tricky penultimate hurdle since Meath were relegated from the senior grade in 2018.
“It was an absolute team performance,” said a modest Minogue. “Kerry are a savage side. The scoreline didn’t reflect how tough a game that was, probably the toughest game I’ve had all year.
“We’ll put our heads down now for another two weeks and hopefully kick in. We’ve been in the semis the last two or three years in a row and haven’t gotten through that stage so we’ll regroup now and go hell for leather.”