By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Galway’s last three competitive outings have been against Cork and they retained their 100 per cent record against the Rebels to record a 1-12 to 0-12 triumph in their first Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior championship Group 1 tie at Kenny Park, Athenry.
The sides last met in the League final seven weeks ago, having also clashed in the group stages of that competition, and a 55th minute goal from Siobhán McGrath sealed the issue here after a fiercely-contested affair.
It was a tremendous team score, starting from a short puckout and ending with Siobhán Gardiner flicking a pass from Niamh Hanniffy goalwards before McGrath provided the finishing touch on her first appearance in maroon this year after injury. Allied with eight points from the fantastic Carrie Dolan, it was pivotal in getting Cathal Murray’s team over the line.
It had been nip and tuck until then but Cork were unable to pose enough of a threat in the second half. Indeed they only managed two points in the latter period, both magnificently-slotted frees by the brilliant Katrina Mackey, though they did rack up seven wides to give an indication of some of the chances they had created.
They had gone in at the change of ends leading by 0-11 to 0-7 and it was a deserved lead that should have been greater but for the failure to capitalise on some other good chances. This was a malaise that proved very costly for Matthew Twomey’s crew. The Leesiders welcomed Mackey back from a rib injury suffered in the very first game of the League and one of the most experienced players on the pitch excelled with six points, including four from play in that opening half.
Galway were a different team after the resumption with McGrath slotting two points and Dolan keeping the scoreboard ticking over with three scores to add to her first-half quintet. It took Cork 20 minutes to get off the mark but McGrath’s goal came soon after to decide the contest.
Clare led Down by 0-10 to 0-7 at half-time in the group’s other game but they needed a late flurry that yielded a goal and four points to get over the Ulster champions by 1-19 to 2-11 at the Liatroim Fontenoys’ facility.
The sensational Niamh Mallon goaled in the 37th minute and though Louise McNamara kept Clare’s noses in front, that was no longer the case when Saoirse Sands’ drive from distance went all the way to the Bannerwomen’s net and Mallon slotted her ninth point from a free with less than six minutes of normal time remaining.
The response from John Carmody’s players was notable though, with Eimear Kelly coming off the bench to split the posts twice and McNamara adding to her tally with a pair of minors, before Áine O’Loughlin goaled in injury time to assure the verdict.
In Group 3, last year’s semi-finalists Waterford got their campaign up and running with a comfortable victory over Offaly, prevailing by 2-26 to 1-9 inn Banagher.
Annie Fitzgerald took just three seconds longer than Man City midfielder İlkay Gündogan did in the FA Cup final to score a goal, rattling the net after 15 seconds to give her team the ideal start. Mairéad O’Brien scored a second goal for the Déise and with Beth Carton slotting five frees to record a first-half tally of six points, they led by 2-14 to 0-5 at half-time.
Becky Bryant had scored four points for the home team but they hadn’t enough of a threat and it was straightforward to Seán Power’s crew after the restart, as Carton brought her tally to 11. Sarah Harding gave the home supporters something to cheer about with a goal from a close-in free, six minutes from the end of regulation time, but it was a cruise for the visitors.
Antrim withstood a strong second-half comeback from Limerick to win by 1-15 to 0-14 in Dunloy. The Saffrons had beaten last year’s All-Ireland quarter-finalists when travelling to Rathkeale during the League and repeated that on home territory, but were made to sweat, having led by 1-8 to 0-4 at the interval.
A Siobhán McKillop goal, allied with some good finishing by Caitrin Dobbin and Katie McKillop put Antrim in a strong position and though Amy Boyle stretched the advantage to eight points soon after the resumption, Limerick showed their bottle with six of the next seven points to
Not for the first time, Róisín McCormick made a big contribution to halt the momentum, converting a free from distance into the wind and with Áine Magill also finding the target, they managed to chisel out a four-point success.