With two of camogie’s Big Three in Group 2 of the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Championship, it was always likely that top spot and automatic qualification to the semi-final would be between champions Galway and Kilkenny.
And while as a result and with the way the programme of fixtures unfolded, you were unlikely to have four fighting for the two quarter-final slots as is the case in Group 1, you do have significant high stakes for each of the six teams next weekend, when all will be decided with the prizes on offer related directly to the three games.
With a worse score difference, Kilkenny will travel to Athenry needing to win to secure top spot but like Galway, are already assured of qualification to the knockout stages. A draw will do the hosts.
A share of the spoils will also be sufficient for Limerick in Antrim to bag the coveted quarter-final spot but the home team can advance on their return to the top tier, having garnered intermediate honours last year, if they triumph.
Nothing but a win will do for Offaly in a bottom-of-the-table clash with Down, who by virtue of a previous draw with Antrim, will avoid a relegation play-off against Group 1’s basement dwellers if they can secure a similar result against the Faithful women, who have yet to get on the board.
Both manager Cathal Murray and Glen Dimplex Player of the Match Carrie Dolan emphasised the policy of not looking beyond the next game as key to Galway’s progression after overcoming Antrim by 2-17 to 0-6 at Dunloy Cúchullains’ grounds.
Dolan excelled from placed balls in blustery conditions while Siobhán McGrath and Aoife Donohue goaled in each period but it was the second-half performance, into the wind and with the result already assured, that impressed Murray most.
“Antrim are a really good team, were really good intermediate champions,” said Murray. “There was a strong breeze in it and I know we were ten points up at half-time but it didn’t feel we were going well but our second-half performance, we were really happy with that.
“We talked about it at half-time that we needed to start really well in the second half. The performance in the second half was really good and we’re just hoping that we can carry that into next week. We need to.
“Everyone outside (the camp) was saying at the start it was going to come down to that game. We were taking every game at the time and doing our job. It’s there now, we’re ahead on score difference. It’s going to be a massive game in Athenry. The last two or three times they’ve beaten us there… Kilkenny are always going to be a huge test and we’re going to have to bring our second-half performance into it if we’ve any chance.”
Dolan concurred with her manager on the initial lack of cohesiveness in the Galway unit and reasserted the message on treating every opposition with maximum respect.
“We had the wind (in the first half) and they dropped one or two back,” Dolan explained. “It was hard to get through. The girls worked very hard. The workrate was decent enough in the first half. We won a few frees and got a few from play. We’d a couple of goal chances we could have got too but we got the one in the first half and one in the second half so we’re happy enough with that.
“We started shaky enough (with Sarah Healy having to make a great save) but the last 20 minutes we pushed on. Antrim are a very good team, they’ve very good forwards, they’re very fast. We knew we couldn’t take the foot off the pedal at any stage so when we came out in the second half, there was no excuses about the wind or nothing like that. We wanted to shove on and we did that.
“We’ve been taking every game as it comes and we haven’t looked past any team so our focus now goes to Kilkenny next weekend.”
Murray conceded that he did start to think of Kilkenny as he made his final-quarter substitutions, including replacing Sarah Dervan and Emma Helebert, the latter having rolled her ankle after coming on.
There was nothing precautionary about the substitution of Rebecca Hennelly just before half-time, however and Murray’s concern for her welfare was very evident. This wasn’t just because she has been in outstanding form for Galway this year, either. The sideline-scoring specialist with a penchant for long-distance points, was in obvious distress as she departed with a knee injury and having already battled back from two cruciate tears in the past, everyone was keeping their fingers crossed for the Ardrahan star.
“It’s definitely a knee injury,” confirmed Murray. “We don’t know how serious it is. We’re just going to have to get her scanned during the week. Hopefully she’ll be all right. I don’t know to be honest.
“We’ve a few more niggly injuries as well but that’s par for the course to be honest with you the way the matches are coming thick and fast. Becky’s been having a super year so far for us and I just hope she’s okay, to be honest with you.”
Two goals from Katie Nolan, another from Julieann Malone and the trademark accuracy of Denise Gaule were among the features as Kilkenny accounted for Offaly by 3-18 to 2-7 at UPMC Nowlan Park.
Mairéad Teehan and Sarah Harding were Offaly’s principal scoring contributors but the Cats had threats all over the field. Miriam Walsh continued her stellar form this summer and with the likes of Aoife Prendergast and Michaela Kennelly also contributing to the final tally, Brian Dowling’s outfit were never under threat.
Meanwhile, Caoimhe Costelloe shot all bar one point of Limerick’s tally as John Lillis’s team came from nine points down to prevail by five, 2-11 to 0-12 at Cappamore GAA. Costelloe’s first goal just before the interval was vital, particularly as it came within seconds of a brilliant save by Claire Keating at the other end, with Niamh Mallon having helped establish a firm Down advantage.
The homesters kicked for home after the restart with the wind at their backs, as Costelloe grabbed a fortuitous second goal from a long-distance free but also arced over a hat of points from various distances and angles. Paula O’Hagan attempted to stall the momentum with two pressure frees but there was no holding back the green tide.