By Jennifer O'Leary
RIGHT now Cork are in that window between the national league and the championship.
Paudie Murray’s team lost in the Division 1 league semi-final against Kilkenny last month, and then the Cats went on to lose to Galway in the final. Kilkenny were going for the four-in-a-row – but Galway stopped that.
With the All-Ireland championship beginning in June, preparations are ongoing now as counties gear up for the big one. This is a championship that seems wide open. Cork are the reigning champions and are the team to beat. Kilkenny are serious contenders. Galway, Limerick and Tipperary are showing themselves to be dark horses with all three having enjoyed solid league campaigns.
While we all know the league can often be misleading when it comes to predictions for lifting the O’Duffy Cup, it does open up many interesting talking points. The following are some that were brought to my mind as I followed the league campaign.
Wexford’s fall from grace: A huge talking point from the 2019 Littlewoods League has been Wexford’s decline. There have been a few signs over the last few years, both in the league and championship, that Wexford are far from the team that won three All-Irelands in a row from 2010 to 2012. This year is certainly a warning light that the county is in serious trouble.
Losing to Waterford in their opening Division 1 game and conceding to Cork in their second league game, it went from bad to worse.
Wexford struggled to piece together a panel of 15 players for their league games. They had only 13 players against a strong Galway team in their third league match and they were hammered by 45 points, 9-23 to 1-2.
It didn’t get any better after that. They lost 5-11 to 0-8 against Tipperary and ended up in a relegation fight against Offaly.
After the original relegation final between the counties was postponed – Wexford refused to play on Parnell’s 3G pitch after the original pitch was deemed unplayable – the rescheduled game was won by Offaly, by 4-15 to 1-6 in Newbridge.
It means that Wexford have been relegated to Division 2 next season with their current intermediate team lowered to Division 3.
Wexford are a proud camogie county. While it is a sad day for what was once a camogie powerhouse, I have no doubt that with some change in the background and hard work on the training grounds, the county will once again be back to the top tier.
It’s positive to note that St Martin’s club in Wexford made the All-Ireland final this year, losing to Slaughtneil, current All-Ireland champs. The talent is still in the county. Patience and hard grafting are key to Wexford inter-county camogie bouncing back.
Double-headers: It started with senior camogie games scheduled as the openers before U21 hurling encounters. This helped improve the attendance to the female games and raised the profile of both players and of the game itself.
The association has succeeded in going one step further this year when certain group games in the league were played before the men’s national hurling league encounters. Clare played Dublin camogie in Cusack Park before the battle of Clare and Wexford hurlers.
Kilkenny then played the Limerick camogie team in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick as the curtain-raiser before the Limerick and Cork hurling match.
Hopefully, there’s more of this to come. The women’s and men’s games can share the same billing and that will help improve attendance figures for camogie and grow the game even more.
Televised league final: It was brilliant to see TG4 show live coverage of the camogie Division 1 league final between Kilkenny and Galway at Croke Park. Kilkenny were going for the four-in-a-row. Galway stopped them.
This was part of a triple-header at GAA HQ followed by the Division 1 hurling league final between Limerick and Waterford and the Division 1 football league decider between Mayo and Kerry.
The more television coverage for camogie, the better. It helps to reach a wider audience and spread the word. And that the camogie final shared the same stage as the men’s football and hurling finals is great to see too. More of this, please.
Players who impressed: Galway’s ace free taker Carrie Dolan had an impressive league campaign. She’s only 20 years old and in only her second year on the panel but she demonstrates composure and a mind of steel when faced with the pressure of free-taking. Carrie showcased this in the league final when faced with crucial frees in the second half when the destiny of the league title was in the balance.
After missing a few earlier in the game, she regained her composure and slotted them over with ease when her team really needed it. Carrie will be one to watch in this championship campaign. Her youth brings a mix of freshness and excitement to the game.
Ann Dalton of Kilkenny is a name everyone is familiar with in camogie. Now a new mother and busier than ever, it hasn’t affected her ability to play outstanding camogie. The Players’ Player of the Year for 2018, Ann played a more forward role for Kilkenny in the league this year and is lethal from any angle and any distance. She’s one to watch again this year come championship.
What can I say about Orla Cotter that I haven’t already written before? Only that she is improving even more with every year that passes and her relaxed nature on the ball allows her style of play to appear effortless.
You won’t find a player who works as hard as Orla both on and off the field. If you don’t see her in the gym, she will be training with club or county. She is, again, after starting the year off on a high with an impressive league campaign and has been Cork’s top scorer with her frees and scores from play.
Orla is also one of the main playmakers on the team and while Cork were defeated in the semi-final against Kilkenny by three points, the year is still early and it’s all to play for.