Previewing this weekend's All-Ireland camogie semi-finals
There's one hell of a double header in Thurles this weekend.
Kilkenny and Cork go into their respective semi-final ties this weekend as favourites to make it to their third O'Duffy Cup decider in a row, but Galway and Cork might have something to say about that.
Daragh Ó Conchúir previews the action.
Galway v Kilkenny
Semple Stadium, 5.30pm.
IT CAN not have been easy for Cathal Murray to take over the reigns as manager of Galway at the conclusion of the League when the players sought a change despite reaching the Semi-Final and Tony O’Donovan departed after just four months in the hot seat.
Murray came in with a strong reputation as a player and in management with his club Sarsfields and Galway U21s, and brought highly-rated coach Conor Dolan and former players Caroline Murray and Orla Kilkenny with him. Since then, they have lost only one game in competitive action, and garnered silverware in the form of the interprovincial Competition when representing Connacht.
That defeat was notable though, as it came in the last Group 1 tie at the hands of Kilkenny. Both sides were already qualified and while a direct route to the Semi-Finals was on offer, it was the opportunity to lay down a real marker this time that would have been Galway’s motivation.
They looked dangerous early on but struggled to find a way around Anne Dalton, who has perfected the sweeper’s role for Kilkenny. As the game wore on, the Cats exerted greater control and the Maroons’ boss said afterwards that he felt his charges had thrown in the towel in the closing quarter as they fell to a seven-point defeat at Nowlan Park.
Galway had shown glimpses of what they were capable of but this is what frustrates them and their supporters – an inability to perform to a high level as consistently as they should with the talent that is at their disposal.
To that end, the 16-point Quarter-Final win over Dublin at Páirc Uí Chaoimh was interesting. Some criticised the Tribeswomen for their failure to score a goal but raising green flags has never really been an issue for them, although the loss of full-forward Niamh Hanniffy for the rest of the campaign with a knee ligament injury is a blow in this regard.
Galway were extremely professional against the Dubs however. They responded to the absence of space closer to the opposition posts by taking their scores from further afield and 20 points was an excellent return.
Particularly heart-warming for the management would have been the form of the two Niamhs, Kilkenny and McGrath, while Aoife Donohue was unmarkable on occasions and Catríona Cormican also prospered. Three of the subs got on the scoresheet too.
Meanwhile, Sarah Dervan excelled at full-back, as Dublin looked to isolate her with Mairi Moynihan. The Galway captain dominated the air and the ground, and had excellent support form Tara Kenny and Heather Cooney, the latter relishing the new role of centre-back.
There appear to be few weaknesses, if any, in the Kilkenny team. Indeed Ann Downey has created real depth and competition for places over the last few seasons, even since overseeing the long-awaited All-Ireland success of 2016.
Last year, 17-year-old Danielle Morrissey established herself in the first 15 and indeed, was entrusted with free-taking responsibilities. This year, fellow Minor Aoife Doyle has flourished. In the meantime, Edwina Keane, Kelly Ann Doyle and Niamh Deely are all available once more after missing last year with cruciate knee ligament injuries.
Then you have the likes of Denise Gaule, Katie Power, the Farrell sisters (captain Shelly, Anna and Meighan), Miriam Walsh, and the phenomenal Dalton, Claire Phelan, Collette Dormer and Davina Tobin in defence.
The loss of their All-Ireland title to Julia White’s injury-time point for Cork last year had to hurt but they dusted themselves off and bagged a third League crown in succession, getting the better of their old rivals in the Final on home turf.
That game will long be remembered for the magnificence of the Noresiders in the opening 18 minutes, when they established a 0-10 to 0-1 lead. In the end, they only held on by a point but they have illustrated their ability to take lessons on board continuously in the past four years.
If Galway perform to their potential, this could be a game for the ages. If not, Kilkenny will be expected to advance.
Cork v Tipperary
Semple Stadium, 7.15pm.
Tipperary have built on last year’s campaign by moving one step further in reaching the last four. To that end, beating Waterford was crucial in their development.
Bill Mullaney has been praising their character all year since taking over the reins and they have shown countless examples of that, not least when Grace O’Brien snatched an injury-time goal to deny fellow Group 2 contenders Offaly in their penultimate tie, and then, when the Championship’s leading scorer Cáit Devane slotted an equaliser against Dublin to snatch second in the table. That ensured they would avoid Galway, who defeated Dublin by 16 points.
They found Waterford a very tough nut to crack mind you, with Devane struggling to impose herself in the face of some robust defending. Tipp possess a lot of firepower though. O’Brien was very lively in the opening half but it was the half-forward line that had the biggest impact, especially Ciardha Maher and captain Orla O’Dwyer. They were also able to call on the services of Sarah Fryday from the bench.
They will need their defence to be resolute if they are to cause a shock against the All-Ireland champions, who had 15 individual scorers throughout the round-robin phase. That will require manic work rate from numbers higher than 7 but in Karen Kennedy and Mary Ryan, they have good readers of the game who are capable of winning primary possession.
The Rebels have looked very strong throughout the summer to date, clocking up a staggering aggregate tally of 15 goals and 100 points in five games. That breaks down to an average of 3-20. As good and all as their forwards are, Tipp will need to curtail Katrina Mackey, Orla Cronin, Amy O’Connor and Niamh McCarthy, as well as the contributions from deeper of Ashling Thompson, Orla Cotter and Gemma O’Connor, if they are to prevail.
They will find some encouragement from the three goals Arlene Watkins plundered in the last game of the group series but that was a game Cork still won by a whopping 32 points. That illustrates the dangers of being gung-ho against the Leesiders, and the dilemma facing Mullaney and his crew, for it is impossible to see them winning this game by being overly-defensive either.
It will be intriguing to see how they approach it but either way, Cork are strong favourites.