Ulster Says Snow in Camogie Finals
Ulster Says Snow in Camogie Finals
Sneachta agus Sleacht Néill
Christmas came early yesterday for the Slaughtneil camogie team. Then again maybe it is Christmas Day every day when you live up under Carn Togher and play camogie. Damien ‘Cob’ McEldowney looking like Santa, snowflakes flecking his magnificent beard, as he delivered another All Ireland to his home club. What a day for Derry camogie.
At the minute Slaughtneil are way out on their own in terms of club camogie, in terms of the preparation off the pitch, the attention to detail, feedback to players, player input. The Right Stuff. They have it up there and they’re probably ahead of many camogie county teams.
And the scary factor for their rivals in Derry, Ulster and across Ireland is that there is little sign of the success coming to a halt. As an example there is a strong, well-established and experienced core group. But, seamlessly integrated into the starting team over the last year are Bridin McAllister and Ceat McEldowney. Faoiltiarna Burke
got a starting spot on the semi final team having previously experienced the frustration of being a sub and kept the jersey for the final. Three young players integrated easily. Three players have gone from the 2018 team and final goal scorer Mary Kelly from the 2017 team. But the transition is there.
The spine of the team is controlled by Aoife and Éilis Ní Casaide, Louise Dougan is the standard choice at sweeper. A solid defensive platform gives Shannon Graham the freedom to roam forward and indeed wherever she needs to go from midfield while Offaly native Tina Hannon is a constant threat up front with her direct running, unerring accuracy and game smarts. The forward line is all about movement. But underpinning the effort throughout is a very high fitness level, strength, good striking and simple use of the sliotar under pressure. The strength in depth across the team from 1-15 means an opponent has to neutralize multiple threats. Starting with Tina Hannon and Shannon Graham. What an addition to the panel they have been, Graham part of the extended Cassidy clan and Tina Hannon Patsy Bradley’s partner.
Any team wanting to even compete with the Derry women must watch them in detail and start from there. The strength and athleticism they display across the panel is a tremendous credit to the commitment of the players. They are under the watchful eye of strength coach Ollie Cummings.
The backroom team is led by Damien McEldowney and key men with him are Antrim legend Woody McKinley and Micky Glover. The girl’s successes now mean that they are heroes in the parish and role models for young camogie players in the club and across Derry & Ulster. Joint captains Gráinne Ní Cathain and Siobhan Bradley attract less of the spotlight but lead by example on their work on the pitch. The two players are examples of the work ethos that has delivered such success to the Robbies.
No doubt Derry county manager John O’Dwyer will be looking forward to a number of the panel to join up with the county squad, that is after they have finished celebrating and thawed out.
It’s not often you see Croke Park look so apocalyptic and so magnificent but it was that sort of day.
Earlier the Camogs of Clonduff produced a tremendous gritty performance to edge out the gallant challenge of Gaill Tír in the Intermediate final. And although the Waterford women mounted a spirited comeback The Yellas quite simply were magnificent and refused to yield. At one stage stalwart Fionnuala Carr let fly with an epic point that seemed to come from her back garden miles away in Hilltown but in fact was inside her own half. A statement score that said we’re in charge in Croke Park today. Sister Sarah Louise was tremendous, her last foray in Croke Park ended in frustration but not this time. Always a scoring threat her three points a deserved return.
Much of the plaudits must go to the Down skipper Paula O’Hagan whose freetaking in increasingly difficult conditions was unerring. As captain she led from the front. Towards the closing stages every meter of turf counted, players made yards, struck the soapy Sliotar, gained respite, a game of inches. Clonduff even had time to save a penalty just before half time.
Annie Fitzgerald and Áine Lyng battled bravely to exhaustion for Gaill Tír but you got the sense right from the getgo that Clonduff were on a mission.
As the final whistle finally blew the Clonduff players went ape, Sarah Louise sank to her knees in redemption, joined on the holy ground by Antrim hurler husband and water boy for the day, Arron Graffin.
A great day for Ulster camogie. And as the snow fell if you were from Slaughtneil and Clonduff you just wished it could be Christmas every day. Certainly felt like it.