PERVIEWS – AIB All-Ireland Senior & Intermediate Camogie Club Championships Finals
By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Sunday March 3rd 2019 Croke Park Senior Final Preview – Slaughtneil (Derry) v St. Martin’s (Wexford)
Referee: Liz Dempsey (Kilkenny)
Neither Derry nor Wexford are challenging for top-flight glory but such is the beauty of the AIB All-Ireland Club Championshipx that the power rankings at intercounty level do not always translate directly. Indeed Slaughtneil, from a county operating in the Intermediate Championship, are firmly established as the club team to beat in the country, now just 60 minutes and change away from a third consecutive All-Ireland Senior title. That would place them in hallowed company as the three-in-a-row has only been achieved five times. St. Paul’s of Kilkenny managed it twice (1968-80, 1987-89), with compatriots St. Lachtain’s (2004-06) and Pearses of Galway (2000-2002) others.
They would still have to return another year to match the remarkable Buffers Alley crew that triumphed in four consecutive seasons (1981-84) and actually won five of seven successive Final appearances around that period. Six clubs have annexed the title in the 11 campaigns since St. Lachtain’s attained the significant landmark – there was no competition in 2010 with the format adopting the current schedule of finishing in March – and though there have been four multiple winners, only Slaughtneil have come this close to joining the game’s elite. In truth, becoming the first team from Derry to reach the summit and only the second from Ulster, after Antrim’s O’Donovan Rossa in 2008, has already assured them of exalted status. That they need to dig deep so often to prevail only adds to the lore. They have been without the considerable services of Clare McGrath and the McGuigans, Dervla and Denise, but the likes of Céat McEldowney and Clíona Mulholland have stepped in seamlessly.
As usual, they were given a stern examination by Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim) in the Ulster Final, before grinding out a four-point win over Ardrahan (Galway) in the All-Ireland Semi-Final. Many familiar faces shone, led by Shannon Graham, the Ní Chaiside siblings Aoife, Eilís and Bróna, Louise Dougan and former Offaly star Tina Hannon. St. Martin’s have emerged from the shadow of Oulart-The Ballagh and made it count, ending the Leinster three-in-a-row aspirations of Kilkenny champions Thomastown, with a convincing seven-point triumph in the provincial decider. Linda Bolger and Chloe Foxe scored the all-important second-half goals that day and they were exemplars too in another latter-period blitz that blew Inniscarra of Cork away in the All-Ireland Semi-Final. In particular, Foxe excelled, scoring nine of her team’s 11 points in a six-point win. Noeleen Lambert and Ciara O’Connor were very good in a mean defence that boasts multiple All-Ireland winner and All-Star, Mags D’Arcy as goalkeeper and spiritual leader.
The Saints are managed by JJ Doyle, steward of Wexford’s three-in-a-row side at the beginning of the decade, and now a coach and selector with the Model County’s Senior hurlers (D’Arcy is also a member of the coaching set-up), having brought the Under 21s to an All-Ireland Final. Slaughtneil have the same management in Antrim legend Dominic McKinley and Damien McEldowney that have overseen their odyssey to date since the death mid-way through that history-making breakthrough campaign of Thomas Cassidy, father of the Ní Chaiside sisters. This won’t be lost on the line. Such is the talent on show that it won’t be lost at all. It will be won, most likely after a belter.