By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Galway’s defence of their Very Camogie League Division 1A title got off to the bad start as they were beaten 4-9 to 1-9 by Tipperary at The Ragg on a day when last year’s runners-up Cork trounced Dublin by 3-17 to 0-5 at MTU Cork.
The champions are certainly a side in transition, with the likes of Sarah Dervan and Niamh Kilkenny among the notable absentees, Shauna Healy taking over the captaincy from Dervan and filling the number three jersey in place of the two-time All-Ireland-winning skipper, and a number of other regulars missing for the League at least.
They include Sarah Healy and Catherine Finnerty, who are both travelling, while Orlaith McGrath, Rebecca Hennelly and Ciara Donohue are all still recovering from cruciate injuries. Club All-Ireland victors with Sarsfields, Maria Cooney, Sarah Spellman and Siobhan McGrath are rehabbing other injuries.
Denis Kelly should not allow any of that to detract from his team’s triumph though in his first competitive outing having been tasked with carrying on the tremendous progress carried out under Bill Mullaney.
The initial signs are good as he fielded a nice blend of youth and experience, welcoming back joint-captain Karen Kennedy, who missed out last year through injury but starting with a couple of Tipp legends, Cáit Devane and Mary Ryan on the bench.
Kennedy struck for a sensational solo goal in the fourth minute, running from deep and exchanging a one-two with Courtney Ryan before dispatching ruthlessly to the net. Tipp played with assurance from there, six-point Eimear McGrath excelling as the hosts were able to keep a Galway team at bay that boasts ladies’ football and AFLW legend, Cora Staunton as their new performance coach.
Carrie Dolan did equalise fortuitously from the next attack, when her long-distance free awarded for a foul on Aoife Keane was held up by the wind and dropped into the net.
Tipp showed notable composure however and McGrath hit four points in succession, three from frees. Goals from Róisín Howard and Ryan put them in a commanding position at the break, leading by 3-6 to 1-3.
Galway did attempt to increase the pressure with the elements in their favour after the resumption, but though Dolan, who finished with 1-4, Niamh McPeake and Ailish O’Reilly split the posts, Cathal Murray’s side needed goals and instead, it was Tipp who raised another green flag via substitute Anna Fahie late on.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, Cork supremo, Matthew Twomey spoke of his wish to develop a new game plan that suited his players and while it’s early days, they certainly looked like a team relishing the return to the fray as they blitzed Dublin in stunning fashion.
Missing Ashling Thompson, Katie O’Mahony and Olivia McAllen with ACL injuries and Ciara O’Sullivan, who is feared to have suffered the same injury in Ashbourne Cup action last weekend, the Rebels were boosted by the return of four-time All-Star defender Pamela Mackey after taking a year out
Dublin had already been forced into a change of management following the announcement of former Tipp star Paul Kelly as boss in October, with Gerry McQuaid stepping into the fray and last year’s All-Ireland quarter-finalists were unable to land a blow.
By the time the visitors got off the mark, with a 17th minute point by Gaby Couch, Twomey’s titans already had 2-7 on the board, skipper Amy O’Connor responsible for a goal and four.
The goal arrived in the sixth minute and when Katrina Mackey pounced for a second just two minutes later, Dublin were shellshocked. The attacking Mackey twin unfortunately had to leave with an injury before the half ended but that made little difference to the this game as O’Connor, who registered 1-6 in total, last year’s minor star Orlaith Cahalane, Sorcha McCartan and Cliona Healy pointed to make it 2-11 to 0-1 at the interval.
With the game in the bag and the changes being rung, Dublin were more competitive in the second half and though newcomer Ali Smith goaled for Cork, the Blues did register four points, three from Aisling Maher and one from Aoife Whelan and will hope to improve as the campaign unfolds.
In Division 1B, two first-half goals from Caitrin Dobbin sent Antrim on their way as they accounted for Down, who had Niamh Mallon starring, by 5-14 to 0-14. Beth Carton shot 2-14 as Waterford defeated Offaly by 4-22 to 1-9 while Wexford overcame Limerick by 0-13 to 0-10.
Meanwhile, in the Allianz Corn Sceilge All-Ireland senior A final, Loreto Kilkenny had too much firepower for St Patrick’s Maghera, prevailing by 1-16 to 1-2.