The Littlewoods Ireland National Camogie Leagues got off to an earlier than usual start with a full round of division one fixtures played across the country last weekend.
Cork vs Galway
The Cork camogie grounds played host to the hottest tie of the round with 2017 All Ireland champions Cork facing Galway – the Rebels still holding the bragging rights over their Western opponents as they comprehensively collected victory on a scoreline of 0-13 to 1-3. Neither side boasted full strength starting teams; Galway without their Sarsfields’ contingent while Cork played their first league encounter without 2018 captain Aoife Murray, Gemma O’Connor and Rena Buckley.
Seven points was the difference in the end however, the halftime scoreline reflected a much closer and competitive first half with only a point separating the sides. Despite the winners only meeting a handful of times to prepare for the clash, Orla Cotter’s performance backed up the statement “Form is temporary, class is permanent” as she led her charges throughout, getting her name on the score sheet on seven different occasions. Given the earlier than usual start to the campaign after an off-season of All-Ireland celebration, Cork look impressive with a self-awareness of starting the hard work now to add League honours to their trophy cabinet.
Clare vs Kilkenny
To do that, Cork will have to overcome Kilkenny who are building towards their third league final victory in a row should things go their way this Spring. Clare travelled to Nowlan Park last summer to take on the then reigning champions Kilkenny in a championship round robin figure that not many saw ending in defeat for the home county, but Clare provided the shock of the round and perhaps left the Marble city somewhat disappointed with only half the points available in the bag as Kilkenny salvaged an injury time draw.
It was the Cats that travelled to Clare this time as Clonlara played host to a repeat fixture with the same sides, Kilkenny presumably aiming to exert dominance once again. The facilitation of the “blowing off of the cobwebs” resulted in a low-scoring first 30 mins, Clare leading 1-3 to 4 points at half time. Sixmilebridge’s Chloe Morey reaffirming her place as one of the top players of the game claiming all 1-3 of the Banner’s tally, including an impressive goal scored from distance. Halftime is where Clare’s luck ran out however as they failed to score in the second period. Aoife Doyle hit the net for the visitors, while Ann Dalton and Miriam Walsh kept the scoreboard ticking over to ultimately finish up 1-13 to 1-3.
Tipperary vs Wexford
With both sides under new management, Tipperary and Wexford had a lot to prove in their first round face off. These two sides are evenly matched in terms of their overall position on the pecking order, with both sides claiming one victory each in the same league and championship fixture last year. Tipperary led for the majority of the game and will be disappointed with a one point loss thanks to an injury time Linda Bolger goal, but have plenty of positives to take into the rest of their campaign under new boss Bill Mullaney. Sarah Fryday resumed her corner forward position after a cruciate ligament injury, her appetite for game time fed contently with two goals to her name.
The effortless Orla O’Dwyer, a dual player for the Premier county, showed superb leadership despite only being 19 years of age, contributing a string of points from play from her centre forward position, her most impressive coming in the first half. Upon gathering possession in the middle of the park she accelerated away from two Wexford players and picked out Keeley Lenihan to her left for the perfect handpass. O’Dwyer continued her run after despatching the ball, Lenihan upon recognizing O’Dwyer had now created space for herself returned the favour with Orla collecting the ball in mid 360 degree spin before restabilizing and striking off her right side, the play ending with a well deserved raised white flag. O’Dwyer’s personal display wasn’t enough though as the most important statistic went Wexford’s way, the game finishing 3-10 to 2-12.
Limerick vs Dublin
A verdict would have been hard to predict prior to the meeting of Limerick and Dublin in Rathkeale for their first round tie and this feeling is emulated in the final result – 2-12 each. Limerick will be out to prove their worth throughout the 2018 season, as the business end of the year escaped them despite some pretty impressive performances throughout 2017. Managers are often quoted as looking for mental strength and attitude at this time of the year and the Treaty girls comeback from eight points down at the break will give Dublin bainisteoir David Herity some food for thought as he will be disappointed with travelling back up the M7 without full points on the board. Niamh Mulcahy showing her experience of the tougher days out claiming 1-7 herself.
Waterford vs Meath
Waterford provided the opposition for Meath as they experienced their first outing in the senior ranks since their emphatic All-Ireland Intermediate victory last October. Meath travelled to Carriganore without a number of their championship winning side and Waterford took full advantage with nine points to spare at the finish line 1-12 to 0-6. The 2017 Littlewoods Ireland Player of the League Beth Carton is already putting up on a stiff defence of her individual accolade as she finished the game with six points of her side’s total.
The earlier starting date of the leagues has somewhat altered the preseason preparations for panels of competitive action, with some panels faring better than other with many management teams citing their scant pitch-based skills sessions in the lead up to last weekend. For me, last weekend solidified the natural leaders within each set up – Niamh Mulcahy (Limerick), Chloe Morey (Clare), Orla Cotter (Cork) to name a handful. These girls expressed natural X Factor in poor weather conditions and are only going to improve as their training regimens ramp up in intensity over the coming weeks.
What’s noticeable over the past two or three years is the narrowing of the gap between the traditional elite counties and those who have progressed from lower ranks. I’m expecting Cork to experiment with new players in their league fixtures while some of their top players recover from injury but I think their management team led by Paudie Murray will get the balance right of experience and inexperience and have enough to qualify for the semi-finals. A full strength, fully fit Galway would be poised to take the second spot however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Wexford and Tipperary jump ahead.
Kilkenny will most likely claim either of the two spots available in Group Two, but as Clare demonstrated last year, they are far from indestructible. David Herity will hope his sides’ experience of some big match victories will stand testament and their form will carry through to this campaign but Clare and Limerick will have a lot to say about that.