BY DARAGH Ó CONCHÚIR
THE Very Camogie Leagues underwent a structural reshuffle this year but it is the same two teams competing for honours in the top tier with Cork looking to reverse last season’s result in the Division 1A final against Galway.
They meet on Sunday in Croke Park (1.50pm, live on RTÉ2)
Yet for most of the group stages, it didn’t look likely that the champions would be involved, as they lost their opening tie to Tipperary by three goals and were in no way hard done by in the process.
Accounting for All-Ireland champions Kilkenny in the next round was crucial if they were to maintain a grasp on the title and after doing so, Cathal Murray’s mix of youth and experience made further strides.
Áine Keane has continued her learning curve at this level and Sabina Rabbitte is among the other underage products being assimilated. There has been no sign Niamh Kilkenny and Heather Cooney yet, nor the likes of injured sharpshooters Siobhán and Orlaith McGrath.
But Sarah Dervan has returned to training and Shauna Healy, who inherited the captaincy duties from the seven-time All-Star and won three All-Irelands by her side in the full-back line, is a natural onfield leader. Carrie Dolan has relished added responsibilities in this regard too and her scoring power from play as well as placed balls has been crucial, while Ailish O’Reilly seems to have retained all her hunger for goals.
This was all evident as the Tribeswomen inflicted a first defeat of the season on Cork in the final group game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Tipp’s defeat the day before offered a chink of light as regards making the final and they responded well to going behind in the final quarter by eking out a one-point triumph thanks to O’Reilly’s opportunistic major.
It was a very cagey affair and the first time Cork’s possession and running game stuttered. That’s a credit to Galway, of course, as until then, the Rebels had been flying.
Skipper Amy O’Connor was scoring heavily but she had a lot of help from the likes of Sorcha McCartan, Clíona Healy and Fiona Keating. Saoirse McCarthy and Laura Hayes flourished in their new midfield roles, while Laura Treacy and Libby Coppinger form the spine of a resolute defence.
Ashling Thompson is still absent following her cruciate ligament tear but is said to be making good progress, and the Mackey twins, Pamela and Katrina were injured early on. That has enabled Matthew Twomey to provide opportunities to more players, just as has been the case with Galway.
Cork haven’t won the League since 2013. More pertinently, this is a fourth straight national final for the Leesiders and they are 0-3. That is a considerable motivation but Galway have quite a good League record under Murray, winning twice, due to his policy of rewarding Spring form with places on the Championship team, regardless of who might be returning to the fray in the Summer.