Bill Mullaney cut a contented figure as his Tipperary side produced a power-packed first-half performance to put a gritty but outgunned Down outfit to the sword by 3-16 to 0-3 in the opening Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League Division 1 Group 1 tie at The Ragg on Saturday.
The visitors were more competitive in the second half and Paul Donnelly was keen to mine the positives from that effort, particularly as he wasn’t picking from a full deck.
Tipp weren’t either mind you but they are further down the journey of development and Mullaney was able to introduce a number of new players.
Ciara Hogan, Casey Hennessy and Jenny Grace racked up goals in the first 17 minutes and that is something Tipp will look to improve on, having failed to capitalise on green flag opportunities in agonising semi-final defeats in last year’s League and Championship.
“I thought it was a good performance for the first half in particular,” said Mullaney. “We really got our game going early. The girls applied themselves and worked very hard and that was the whole thing about today. Working hard, getting going and getting the League off to a good start and I thought we did that.
“We have to be working on everything but we are working on combinations as well, always supporting the player. We worked it well. I thought we took some great scores, worked through the lines and tried to be patient on the ball, and take the best opportunity that was available to us.
“Something else we need to work on is getting goals. We’re probably not clinical enough or ruthless enough. I think last year, we probably could have gone for or taken more goal opportunities and we didn’t and we suffered from so that’s something else we have to consider this year.”
Courtney Ryan was among a slew of impressive newcomers, slotting in at centre-back with Karen Kennedy awaiting a shoulder operation.
“Courtney is a fabulous player. We ran out the panel – we only had 21 so everybody was getting an opportunity today. And the girls we took off didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just we need to see everybody and give everybody an opportunity. It took them a while, those players that came on in the second half to get going but everybody is in with a chance and it’s up to themselves to put their hands up. We need to have options, we need to have girls looking over their shoulders, we need to have competition within the panel.
“The Drom & Inch girls will be back in the next couple of weeks. They’ve had a long year, they need a break. Fourteen months without a break is a long time. But at the same time, they’ll have to earn the jersey. We’re not handing it out cheaply. The girls that are there now are doing a great job and a great start today but it’s only a start.”
Co-captain Grace O’Brien enjoyed a fruitful day, covering every inch of The Ragg, although she did pick up a knock towards the end.
“We were dying to get going since we got knocked out last year,” O’Brien noted. “It’s great to get it started and it’s great to get a win. That’s all we were focussing on today.
“We said we wanted to blood a few new players and get the competition off within the panel. We don’t want to be relying on any girls to come in and have to set the standard. I think we did that today. We worked really hard. There’s a lot of improvements but it was a good start.
“Hopefully the knock is nothing too serious. Just a collision of knees. Just a weather, it’s not too nice!”
Donnelly has come in as Down manager this year and it was a difficult opening but he was keen to accentuate the positive and could see plenty.
“It was a tough day at the office but this is about development,” Donnelly emphasised. “It was difficult conditions for both teams but I have to tell you, Tipperary were very clinical in their finishing, took their goals very well, took their chances very well.
“We, certainly in the second half, we’re very half with our performance. We competed all over the pitch, from corner-forwards to the corner-back, that’s what it’s all about, competing, and in the second half we got that.
“It’s only five weeks into the year. There’s another number of games to go and certainly by the end of the year I’d be very confident we’ll be in the place we want to be.”
“We’re missing several top-class players but we have a number of other young player, young and talented, and who want to play for Down and we’re going to give them that opportunity throughout the National League.
“National League to me is about development, about learning about trying to improve as players and a team over the next number of weeks and months. The prize is performing when we come to the Championship and that’s what our focus is.”
In Group 2, defending champions Kilkenny kept Limerick at arm’s length with a 1-18 to 1-10 triumph at the John Lockes ground in Callan.
Limerick began well in their quest to topple the titleholders and led by a point early on thanks to scores from Caoimhe Lyons and Rebecca Delee. Niamh Deely, Miriam Walsh and Aoife Doyle had responded though when Katie Nolan struck for a 12th-minute goal and that took the wind out of the Shannonsiders’ sails.
The gap continued to extend in the second half but Delee’s goal mid-way through the second half brought them to within six points once more, with a glimmer of hope. Brian Dowling’s black and amber contingent saw it out well though, Walsh and Nolan knocking over points to keep their rivals at bay.