Old rivals clash in semi-final
For the first time in a long time, Cork will enjoy home advantage in the semi-final of the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship on Saturday when Kilkenny arrive in Páirc Uí Chaoimh for a 12.30pm throw-in.
In recent years Cork have played Kilkenny in Nowlan Park and Tipperary in Thurles at the same stage of the championship so at last they will enjoy the comforts of a home venue.
Interestingly, manager Paudie Murray said: “Given the condition of the pitch in the Páirc, is a huge help, and if that pitch was available anywhere in the country I would gladly travel there, but it’s great to have it on our doorstep.”
Defender Laura Treacy expressed the same view, saying: “The fact that we don’t have to travel is a big help, especially with such an early start, and of course the pitch is in brilliant condition and that should help both sides produce good quality play.”
As for the opposition, Laura is well aware of the challenge they will pose: “Kilkenny are a very good team, we know enough about them having played them regularly over the years, so we need to be at our best to win what is usually a tight game.”
The Killeagh player, who has been a solid and consistent defender in this team, feels the game against Galway, though they lost, was an important one. “I thought we played very well that day, lost by a couple of points, but learned a lot and then the win over Clare has us in good form coming into Saturday, but we still have to perform.”
Of course, like everyone, Laura is just delighted to be playing even if it is strange to be playing an All-Ireland semi-final in November: “Given what has gone on we didn’t think we would be playing, but it’s great that we are, and while training at this time of the year is unusual, at least it gives us something to focus on.”
Ironically one of the last games they played before the initial lockdown in March was a league game against Kilkenny which Cork won, but that will have little relevance on Saturday.
“It’s so long ago it seems like a different year,” says Laura, “but a lot has happened with both teams since then and all we will be concentrating on is getting the win and then hopefully back training for the final. That’s the plan anyway, but first things first and a tough test on Saturday.”
Playing a quarter-final will also have helped in their preparation, a point manager Paudie Murray agreed on. “We got a walk-over from Offaly in our first game so we only had Wexford and Galway to get up to speed, and getting to the quarters was our aim and we played well against Clare so in that respect it got us to match speed and that will help.”
Like Laura, though, Paudie is well aware of the quality Kilkenny possess: “A team that have Anne Dalton, Grace Walsh and Collette Dormer in their side will be a handful any time and Saturday will be no different.”
As for the injuries: “Apart from Julia (White), the rest are ok, the match is coming a bit too soon for her, but Gemma (O’Connor) is back training and gives us an added option when we sit down to pick our team.”
Apart from the players mentioned Kilkenny, who won their three group games against Limerick, Westmeath and Waterford, can also call on Meighan Farrell, Aoife Doyle and the very exciting forward Denise Gaule.
Cork, despite a high turnover of players from last year for a variety of reasons, have knitted well and were unbeaten in the league and looked odds on to win it, and there is a nice mix of youth and experience in the side.
Amy Lee, filling the shoes of star goalkeeper Aoife Murray, has acquitted herself well all season, while Laura Treacy, Meabh Cahalane, Libby Coppinger and Pamela Mackey anchor a solid defence.
Ashling Thompson and Hannah Looney drive the team on from midfield, while in attack Orla Cronin, Catriona Mackey, Linda Collins and Amy O’Connor have the capacity to unhinge any defence, even one as good as Kilkenny’s.
Interestingly, of the last 12 meetings between the sides, Cork have won eight. Home advantage will help but as the footballers found out last Sunday, it’s no guarantee of victory.
However, if Cork can move the ball quickly into their forwards as they did in the league win in March, they look well capable of winning. This is by no means an easy one, but a nod to Cork to win.
Galway, the reigning champions, and Tipperary meet in the second semi-final at 2.15pm and the odds favour the champions making it back to the 12 December final in Croke Park at 7pm.
It would be great if Cork could join them for a historic first evening All-Ireland Camogie Final.
Setback for footballers
The contrast in emotions leaving Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday compared to two weeks ago were miles apart and the loss represents a serious setback for football in the county.
First up, the better team won, and the best of luck to Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final.
As manager Ronan McCarthy said afterwards: “We have no complaints as we never got the pitch of the game and ultimately paid the price.”
Injuries were a factor, Sean Powter was a huge loss and then to lose Luke Connolly (0-4) at half-time was a further blow along with a number of frees, vital as it turned out, were missed in the second half.
When you consider four defenders were ruled out of the equation with injuries, Liam O’Donovan, Tom Clancy (Fermoy), Kevin Crowley and Powter, it’s an indication of the experience that we could have done with on Sunday last.
In terms of development, it would have meant another game in Croke Park against a top team, a Munster senior medal for the group; Cork have won only nine in the last 24 years, all lost on the back of the defeat.
What now though for this group? Like the hurlers there will be changes I suspect, Paul Kerrigan, surprisingly not introduced on Sunday, has indicated this could be his last year at intercounty, it would have been nice to sign off with a win.
It might not be the only change, but time will tell.
McCarthy, whose three year term ended on Sunday, jokingly said to me before the interview: “It actually ended in August, it’s not the time to discuss (my position), that’s for others and then I will make my decision.”
The reality though is a decision one way or the other needs to be made quickly, by McCarthy and the Board’s executive.
It is understood that the 2021 league is scheduled to begin in February, the weekend of 20-21 has been mentioned, which is not that far away. Factor in Christmas too, so time is of the essence.
If McCarthy was to stay no issues, if not the Board need to act quickly. A new manager will need time to pick his backroom team, get to know the players and then prepare for what could be a tough Division 2 League campaign.
The seven counties in the Division 2 are Mayo, Meath, Down, Kildare, Laois, Clare and Westmeath - nothing easy there.
The championship format is also up in the air for next year but if, and it’s a big if, the Tailtean Cup is played it will be confined to the teams in Division 1 and 2 when the 2021 league concludes, so retaining that position or ideally getting promoted is paramount.
A lot to do in the coming weeks, as this season so different to the ones we are so used to, finally concludes.