Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior camogie champions Galway will do battle with Kilkenny next week to determine who will emerge from Group 2 as table toppers and earn the resultant automatic semi-final spot.
A quirk of the draw also has last year’s intermediate winners Antrim going toe-to-toe with Limerick with the third qualifying slot from the group up for grabs.
And that means that the final group gam, between Down and Offaly also has a huge amount riding on it, with the losers facing a relegation play-off against the bottom team in Group 1.
Right now, it is Offaly who prop up the table without any points. Susan Earner’s crew battled all the way to the final whistle against Kilkenny and were particularly competitive in the second half but by then, the result was already assured, the Noresiders leading by 12 points at the interval on the way to a 3-18 to 2-7 triumph at UPMC Nowlan Park.
The Cats racked up the scores with relative ease in the first half and after Mairéad Teehan equalised Denise Gaule’s opener, Julieanne Malone began a run of 12 successive scores for Brian Dowling’s side that included six more points for Gaule.
Miriam Walsh, Aoife Prendergast and Michaela Kennelly also clipped over nice scores and though Sarah Harding provided a brief respite for Offaly with a goal, Kilkenny’s reply was ruthlessly swift, Katie Nolan rattling the Faithfuls’ net from the next attack to make it 1-13 to 1-1 at the break.
Nolan grabbed her second goal six minutes after the resumption and when Malone raised another green flag in the 29th minute, the margin was 18. Offaly fought valiantly and Teehan was their principal scoring contributor but they must now defeat Down next weekend to avoid a relegation play-off.
A draw will be enough for the Mournewomen to cement their elite status, as they have a point on the board having drawn with Antrim previously. The red and blacks fell to Limerick by 2-11 to 0-12 at Cappamore but would have been harbouring quarter-final hopes approaching half-time as they led by nine points with the wind at their backs.
Limerick had only scored one point, from Caoimhe Costelloe, while Niamh Mallon converted five frees, and Paul O’Hagan, Amy McAleenan, Anna Rogan and Clara Cowan also split the posts.
McAleenan had a chance to extend that advantage but Claire Keating made a great save to prevent a goal and within seconds, the sensational Costelloe executed a lovely one-two with Caoimhe Lyons to goal just before the short whistle. It was a telling six-point turnaround.
John Lillis’ outfit had the wind in the second half but more significant was the presence of Costelloe, who finished with a tally of 2-10 as she dragged the Shannonsiders back into the game and then hauled them clear of the visitors.
Her second goal was fortuitous, as Down netminder Catherine McGourty spilled her 60m free ten minutes after the restart. That was a major blow for the visitors and though O’Hagan converted a couple of frees, Costelloe punished a number of defensive indiscretions at the other end, before Lyons finally became the second Limerick player to score and ensure a victory that moves her side into third.
This result sets up a mouth-watering clash with senior newcomers Antrim next week. Having won two games in a row now, Limerick only need a draw while Antrim, who will have home advantage, must win.
The Ulster side will have to shake off any lingering effects of their 2-17 to 0-6 defeat in Dunloy by All-Ireland champions Galway, who like Kilkenny, boast a perfect record and are certain of making the quarter-finals at least. The vastly superior score difference boasted by Cathal Murray’s charges means that a share of the spoils will put them into the last four.
Galway had scored nine goals in three games and Siobhán McGrath’s 23rd minute major was an important score as it made it opened up some clear daylight between the teams for the first time.
Caitrin Dobbin and Róisín McCormick had given the hosts a solid start with a couple of good scores but a pair of Dolan points that bookmarked scores from Sabina Rabbitte and Aisling O’Reilly settled the westerners.
Áine Magill had two points for Antrim but after McGrath’s goal, Dolan doubled her tally and Rebecca Hennelly slotted a brace too to make it 1-12 to 0-4 at the break. Sight of the latter being replaced by Catherin Finnerty just before the short whistle will concern Galway supporters, however.
The Tribeswomen’s second goal came via the dynamic Aoife Donohue seven minutes from the end of normal time but it had been straightforward by then, with next week the one that counts for all six teams now.