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Previews: Club camogie semi-finals
29 Jan 2015 12:12
Mullagh (Galway) v Milford (Cork) Milford are the apparently unstoppable queens of club camogie right now, just two games short of completing a rare three-in-a-row.
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Kilkenny’s St Paul’s have managed it twice, while Wexford giants, Buffers Alley extended the run to four. Pearses (Galway) and St Lachtain’s (Kilkenny) are the only other clubs to achieve the landmark.
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There have been some retirements since the beginning of the odyssey, while Deirdre Reilly’s absence after a hip operation will be keenly felt.
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Yet, having previously been accused of lacking bottle on the big occasion, Milford have shown their mettle repeatedly since finally making the breakthrough in Cork in 2012. There have been many close shaves in the intervening period but even when they haven’t been at their best, they have prevailed.
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The Cork side, who have O’Duffy Cup winners Ashling Thompson, Anna Geary and Elaine O’Riordan amongst their ranks, won last year’s All-Ireland by a point and indeed, only had the minimum to spare when overcoming Douglas in the county quarter-final last year.
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They were 15-point winners over Inniscarra in the county final though and with the Watson siblings (Emer, Áine and Maria) and Marie O’Neill sharp up front, beat Granagh-Ballingarry (Limerick) by 0-14 to 0-6 in the Munster final.
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Mullagh know all about upsetting the apple cart though. They, in fact, can lay claim to preventing Glen Rovers from emulating Buffers Alley’s four-in-a-row. The Glen were champions when Mullagh beat them by a point in the 1991 semi-final, and they returned to the summit for the next two campaigns.
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For their part Mullagh made it count and Emer Hardiman scored a hat-trick of goals in the final against Eglish to annex the title 24 years ago.
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Rachel Monaghan and Sinead Cahalan are two of their best known players and given the competitiveness of the Galway championship – Ardrahan failed by just the minimum to Milford in last year’s decider, while Killimor were the victims two years ago in the decider, having been champions themselves in 2011 – it is evident that Mullagh are serious challengers.
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Indeed, the manner in which they accounted for Ardrahan (4-6 to 1-8) to claim their first county senior title in 21 years was eye-catching indeed. This could be very close.
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Oulart-The Ballagh (Wexford) v Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim)
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Loughgiel are the only one of the semi-finalists yet to taste the ultimate success but the path they have taken to the final four suggests that they should not be taken for granted by a power-packed Oulart-The Ballagh.
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The Shamrocks recovered from a shock defeat in the county championship in 2013 thanks to a renewed vigour and the input of men of the calibre of Johnny Campbell, who captained the club from a small Antrim village to All-Ireland senior hurling success in 2012.
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They really made the wider camogie community sit up and take notice by dethroning champions, Eoghan Rua in the Ulster final. The Derry girls gave Milford a huge fright in the penultimate round 12 months ago and were determined to build on that this term.
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While Gráinne McGoldrick’s injury was a blow, Eoghan Rua were caught by Loughgiel’s rousing start and with Racquel McCarry, Bróna McIntyre and Emma Connolly shining, the Shamrocks built enough of a lead to withstand a late fightback by the minimum margin.
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This is a repeat of the 2012 semi-final when Oulart-The Ballagh were comfortable victors on the way to winning their All-Ireland. They have been largely dominant in Wexford in recent years but haven’t made it back to Croke Park since defeating Drom-Inch of Tipperary.
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Their squad contains some of the best players ever to have played the game in the likes of Ursula Jacob and Mary Leacy, while Una Leacy is a direct runner with a wonderful eye for goal. All three have captained Wexford to All-Ireland glory.
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Oulart had 10 points to spare over a dangerous Thomastown in the Leinster final at the end of October, getting on top of the Kilkenny representatives early on and showing all their experience to maintain that advantage despite some gritty resistance.
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Early goals have become a bit of a trademark as they look to bully the opposition into submission and Una Leacy and Stacey Kehoe did the needful on this occasion. If Loughgiel are to upset the odds - and they are certainly in favour of Oulart - they will need to keep it tight early on. Should they do so, the Model County women are in for a stiff test.
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