Another week, another round of enthralling action in the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship. And another draw.
It was the fourth time in as many rounds that two teams could not be separated but notably, three of those have been in Group 1, where a number of other clashes have gone down to the wire.
It all means that only Clare are out of contention for qualification to the knockout stages but they still have something to play for in the final round on July 2, as they bid to avoid a relegation play-off.
Indeed only Cork can afford to experiment, as they are assured of top spot and the direct route to the All-Ireland semi-final. That leaves Waterford, Tipperary, Dublin and Wexford vying for the two quarter-final positions. So little separates the quartet that the first three named could qualify by losing their last group games but at the same time, could also miss out by drawing them.
It speaks to a level of competitiveness that may be at an all-time high. Certainly, Eimear Kelly noted the positivity for camogie, though she was devastated that despite a player-of-the-match contribution that enabled Clare to reel in a five-point deficit late on and draw with Dublin 1-9 each at Cusack Park, the Bannerwomen would not make the final six.
Kelly shot three second-half points and set up Clare Hehir for the crucial goal before Lorna McNamara clipped over two points to secure the share of the spoils.
A brilliant solo goal from 18-year-old Leaving Cert student Aisling O’Neill, who has lit up this year’s championship, looked to have sent Dublin on their way but they had to settle for a share of the spoils in the end.
“I’m just sickened now to be honest,” said Kelly afterwards. “I’m so proud of all of our girls. It’s incredibly hard at this time of the summer to be putting it up, week-on-week and fair play to Dublin, they were excellent as well.
“It was such a battle and in terms of camogie, our group, the way it was laid out at the start, it was so exciting for every single team that was in it. That side of it has been brilliant but at times, it took its toll. And there’s a lot of hurt on bodies, and inside as well.
“There were a couple of tough calls (from the referee) if I’m being honest there today as well and it’s a very hard one to take.
“It was tooth and nail. Everything seems to be coming down to a draw. I know Tipp won by a point today. In terms of camogie, camogie is the winner this year in the group, in terms of the standards and keeping the matches close for spectators coming. But yeah, I’m absolutely gutted to be honest.”
“That’s the highs and lows of it. But there’ll be no fear of us. We’ll regroup now for two weeks and put the heads down. We’re always proud to put on the Clare jersey. I certainly am and I know everyone inside is so there’ll be no fear of us. We’ll come out fighting again the next day and give Waterford one hell of a go.”
Joint manager Conor Dolan admitted that his charges just hadn’t done enough but felt that given the rebuilding process he and John Carmody were forced to begin this term, they were on the right trajectory.
“We knew at the start of the year, after the draw was made, there was going to be very little between the teams,” Dolan stated. “Unfortunately, we’ve four games played, we haven’t won a game. If you don’t win games you aren’t going to progress.
“Cork beat us well, in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Wexford got a winner against us and we’ve had two draws. I can’t fault the character of the team. There’s great character there.
“A small bit of luck along the way and it could have been a different story but it’s a learning curve. I’m nothing but proud of what the girls have put in, they’ve given everything they have. We’re working from a small squad. There’s 14 girls that opted out from last year’s panel, which is a massive gap to fill. We’re working away with the junior team at the minute. Those girls will be senior players but they’re not senior ready at the minute and we need to blood those girls for the betterment of Clare camogie going forward.”
Dublin boss, Adrian O’Sullivan admitted to not yet being able to decide whether the result was a good or a bad one.
“It was a game we were in control of and should have won and it was a game we hung on for dear life to get a point out of,” O’Sullivan remarked. “It was one of those manic games where it lost all shape. We tried our best to control but ultimately Clare stuck to the task. They’re a savage outfit and clawed it back to get the draw out of it in the end but maybe we’ll look back on it disappointed that we should have held on for the win.
“We’re walking out still in the championship and they’re walking out gone so that’s the crucial difference. We’ve to go down to Wexford and Wexford have been in great form lately. They’re flying. I suppose we’ll be underdogs again, as we have been for every single game and we’ll just have to rally the troops again.
“The group is so hard. You can see from the results, everybody beat everybody. If you’d have said to me at the start, we’d be walking out of Cusack Park with our fate in our own hands to get to a quarter-final in the last game, I’d have snapped your hand off.”
Elsewhere, an excellent performance by Katrina Mackey as well as late scores from Amy O’Connor, Clíona Healy and Laura Hayes finally enabled Cork to shake off a gritty Waterford by 0-16 to 0-10 at Walsh Park, Beth Carton having kept the scoreboard ticking over for the home team.
Tipperary kept their hopes alive by scoring the last five points, three from Cáit Devane and two, including the winner from joint captain Grace O’Brien, to snatch victory from Wexford’s grasp on a 0-15 to 1-11 scoreline at Bellefield, a goal and a couple of points from Joanne Dillon having helped establish the Yellowbellies’ advantage.