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Senior Final Preview – Slaughtneil (Derry) v St. Martin’s (Wexford)
Referee: Liz Dempsey (Kilkenny)
Neither Derry nor Wexford are challenging for top-flight glory but such is the beauty of the AIB All-Ireland Club Championshipx that the power rankings at intercounty level do not always translate directly.
Indeed Slaughtneil, from a county operating in the Intermediate Championship, are firmly established as the club team to beat in the country, now just 60 minutes and change away from a third consecutive All-Ireland Senior title.
That would place them in hallowed company as the three-in-a-row has only been achieved five times. St. Paul’s of Kilkenny managed it twice (1968-80, 1987-89), with compatriots St. Lachtain’s (2004-06) and Pearses of Galway (2000-2002) others.
They would still have to return another year to match the remarkable Buffers Alley crew that triumphed in four consecutive seasons (1981-84) and actually won five of seven successive Final appearances around that period.
Six clubs have annexed the title in the 11 campaigns since St. Lachtain’s attained the significant landmark – there was no competition in 2010 with the format adopting the current schedule of finishing in March – and though there have been four multiple winners, only Slaughtneil have come this close to joining the game’s elite.
In truth, becoming the first team from Derry to reach the summit and only the second from Ulster, after Antrim’s O’Donovan Rossa in 2008, has already assured them of exalted status. That they need to dig deep so often to prevail only adds to the lore.
They have been without the considerable services of Clare McGrath and the McGuigans, Dervla and Denise, but the likes of Céat McEldowney and Clíona Mulholland have stepped in seamlessly.
As usual, they were given a stern examination by Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim) in the Ulster Final, before grinding out a four-point win over Ardrahan (Galway) in the All-Ireland Semi-Final. Many familiar faces shone, led by Shannon Graham, the Ní Chaiside siblings Aoife, Eilís and Bróna, Louise Dougan and former Offaly star Tina Hannon.
St. Martin’s have emerged from the shadow of Oulart-The Ballagh and made it count, ending the Leinster three-in-a-row aspirations of Kilkenny champions Thomastown, with a convincing seven-point triumph in the provincial decider.
Linda Bolger and Chloe Foxe scored the all-important second-half goals that day and they were exemplars too in another latter-period blitz that blew Inniscarra of Cork away in the All-Ireland Semi-Final. In particular, Foxe excelled, scoring nine of her team’s 11 points in a six-point win.
Noeleen Lambert and Ciara O’Connor were very good in a mean defence that boasts multiple All-Ireland winner and All-Star, Mags D’Arcy as goalkeeper and spiritual leader.
The Saints are managed by JJ Doyle, steward of Wexford’s three-in-a-row side at the beginning of the decade, and now a coach and selector with the Model County’s Senior hurlers (D’Arcy is also a member of the coaching set-up), having brought the Under 21s to an All-Ireland Final.
Slaughtneil have the same management in Antrim legend Dominic McKinley and Damien McEldowney that have overseen their odyssey to date since the death mid-way through that history-making breakthrough campaign of Thomas Cassidy, father of the Ní Chaiside sisters.
This won’t be lost on the line. Such is the talent on show that it won’t be lost at all. It will be won, most likely after a belter.
Senior Final Preview – Clonduff (Down) v Gailltír (Waterford)
Referee: John McDonagh (Galway)
It isn’t significant but it is interesting to note that two new provinces are represented in this year’s Final, 12 months after Kildare’s Johnstownbridge got the better of Galway champions Athenry.
Ulster is the only province with two representatives at headquarters from the two Finals. The increasing competitiveness of the fare in the northern region has been evident in recent times.
Slaughtneil are the obvious role models at Senior level but Eglish, of Tyrone, only lost the Intermediate Final by a point last year and Eoghan Rua (Derry) were two-time victors at the start of the decade.
For a number of Clonduff players, it is a quick return after last September’s All-Ireland Intermediate Final, in which Down found Cork’s second string too strong.
Captain and nerveless freetaker Paula O’Hagan, Fionnuala Carr and her sister Sara-Louise are among the team’s leaders who will be looking to make up for that crushing disappointment and having dethroned Eglish in the Ulster Final – revenge for losing to them in the decider 12 months previously – they have a very good chance of doing so.
They showed a lot of composure in overturning a two-point deficit at the interval against Craughwell (Galway) in the All-Ireland Semi-Final. O’Hagan was deadly from placed balls throughout and Sara-Louise Carr illustrated her happy knack of scoring important goals with a crucial major at the end of the third quarter that moved her side into a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
It is a very positive period in the history of Waterford Camogie and the winners of the Déise’s Senior Championship have been at the hot end of the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship for a few years now. Lismore were All-Ireland champions in 2014 and are multiple provincial winners. Gailltír took Munster honours in the 2016-17 campaign once they were able to see off their rivals from the west in domestic fare. On that occasion, they were just a point shy of Eglish in the All-Ireland Semi-Final.
This time around, it was a Beth Carton-inspired De La Salle that had to be overcome in a rip-roaring Déise decider, the talented young Fitzgerald cousins Annie and Aoife scoring nine points and 1-3 respectively in the 1-17 to 2-13 triumph.
The East Waterford contingent had 10 points to spare against Éire Óg (Cork) in the Munster Final, where again, the Fitzgeralds were very impressive. It was their hugely experienced Waterford teammate Áine Lyng who really took proceedings by the scruff of the neck however and the trio managed 2-8 of their side’s 2-10 between them – and 2-6 of that came from play.
Bagging a second provincial title in three seasons rounded off the club’s 60th anniversary celebrations nicely and now the target is to begin 61 with a historic All-Ireland, having gotten the better of St. Rynagh’s in the Semi-Final. Clodagh Carrol struck the decisive blow with her team’s third goal, while defender Ciara Jackman and the long-serving Emma Roche were part of a resolute defensive effort.
The form of these sides this year and using a direct line through Eglish, suggests that there is very little between these sides and it would be no surprise for the verdict to be in doubt right to the last whistle.