Wexford and Antrim will be readying themselves this week for the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League Division 2 final at Croke Park on Saturday, after coming through their respective semi-finals against Waterford and Cork.
It will be a first appearance for the Wexford seniors at HQ since completing their All-Ireland three-in-a-row in 2012, and it was a scoring burst of a goal and five points without reply that got them over Waterford at Netwatch Dr Cullen Park on a 1-12 to 0-9 scoreline.
Bot these teams were All-Ireland senior championship quarter-finalists last year and so a return to the top tier in the National League was high on their agenda but Ciara O'Connor’s 52nd minute goal, allied with seven points from Anais Curran and outstanding defensive displays by Maeve Sinnott and Louise O’Leary put paid to Waterford’s aspirations in that regard for another year.
A cagey first half ended at 0-6 apiece, with the teams having been level five times but Wexford would have been marginally the happier having played into the wind.
Derek Lyons’ Waterford did open up a two-point lead at one juncture, 0-3 to 0-1, when Niamh Rockett, making her first start of the season, pointed after taking a measured stick pass from Beth Carton.
Brianna O’Regan has been among the top netminders in the game for three or four years and the De La Salle goalie made a stunning save from an O’Connor bullet in the 23rd minute. Her clubmate Carton finished the half with three points, while Mairéad O’Brien and Lorraine Bray were also on the mark for the Déise girls but with Curran raising four white flags and Leah Walsh and Aoife Guiney also on target, it was all to play for.
After good work from the brilliant Sarah O’Connor, Curran showed a clean pair of heels to the Waterford defence to push Wexford in front soon after the resumption but Carton, now operating deeper, with Lorraine Bray moved to full-forward, slotted two frees to make it 0-8 to 0-7 at the three-quarter mark.
Curran equalised from a mammoth free and from the next attack, Jackie Quigley pointed after an Aoife Guiney run to put Kevin Tattan’s crew ahead once more. Then came the goal, after substitute Joanne Dillon’s run and well-timed pass and three more points from Curran (free), a glorious effort by Aoife O’Connor, and Mags Byrne sealed the deal, Vicki Faloner ending a 23-minute drought for Waterford when it was all too late.
Antrim had to survive a phenomenal second-half fightback from Cork’s intermediate outfit in Edenderry to cement their return to the Division 2 decider, after losing out in a tremendous shootout with Down in the 2021 final.
Leading by 13 points at the interval, Elaine Dowds’ charges only managed one minor in the second half as the wind strengthened but despite Joanne Casey shooting 1-7 for the Rebels, they had done just enough to advance by 2-11 to 1-12.
Róisín McCormick did the damage, scoring 2-7 in a superlative first-half performance where she pulled out her complete box of tricks.
The game had begun evenly, with Rachel Harty accelerating away from a midfield tussle before firing over gloriously to bring Cork level early on 0-2 each.
McCormick’s first goal was a thing of beauty, starting in defence with Niamh Donnelly and Chloe Drain, who had to depart with an ankle injury later on. Áine Magill provided the final delivery but McCormick still had a lot to do. The full-forward batted the ball in front of herself and without breaking stride, picked and drilled an unstoppable shot to the roof of the net.
Stephanie Beausang made a stunning save from Magill but in the 25th minute, McCormick gave her no chance once more, this time scooping the sliotar over an onrushing defender’s head, taking it back on her hurley before gathering and finding the far corner of the net.
Magill, Caoimhe Wright and Christine Laverty also pointed, while Casey fired over her third point from a difficult free to make it 2-10 to 0-4 at half-time.
Trevor Coleman will have been delighted with the grit of his players once they had the elements at their backs after the resumption and but for a vital save by Caitríona Graham, they would have effected one of the great comebacks.
Points from Casey, Finola Neville and a pair by Rachel O’Shea were followed by a Casey free to reduce the margin to seven. A touch of luck came Cork’s way when Casey’s free from 50m flew all the way to the net with six minutes of normal time remaining.
Casey slotted another point but the crucial score was Magill’s 58th minute point – Antrim’s sole score of the half – which kept the Saffrons at arm’s length.
Cork did halve the deficit with points from Casey and O’Shea but time ran out on the Leesiders and it was Antrim who progressed to next Saturday’s decider.