by Daragh Ó Conchúir
All-Ireland champions Cork survived an extremely stern examination from Tipperary to get their Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League Division 1 campaign off to a winning start, 0-10 to 0-7 at The Ragg.
Tipp are looking to build on a progressive 2018 under Bill Mullaney, when they reached the last four of the championship. Cork ended their aspirations and went on to complete a famous three-in-a-row but there was enough evidence here to suggest that the Premiers will prove a tough nut to crack for any opposition in the year ahead.
Niamh Treacy capitalised on a loose clearance to give the hosts an early lead but All-Ireland Final heroine, Orla Cotter slotted the first of her six points to level and Linda Collins moved the Rebels in front.
Tipp were able to hold their own in the physical exchanges and Cáit Devane was accurate from placed balls, as they went in at the interval leading by 0-5 to 0-4. It might have been even better but Devane opted for a point from a penalty.
Their goalkeeper Caoimhe Burke was rock solid under pressure under the high ball on a number of occasions in that opening period and was just as good in the second half, denying Collins a goal with one excellent intervention.
The teams were level on 0-6 apiece entering the last quarter, with Cotter and Treacy providing the pick of the scores from play, but Cork showed why they are so difficult to overcome, four points in the context of the overall trend of the game a significant yield in that closing period.
Cotter set up Libby Coppinger for a score and then slotted a close-in free, before Chloe Sigerson and Orla Cronin sealed the verdict.
Kilkenny got their bid for a fourth consecutive title off to a promising start but they too were pushed hard by a youthful Clare before leaving the John Lockes ground in Callan with the spoils, 1-9 to 0-7.
Denise Gaule, Michelle Quilty and the eye-catching Danielle Morrissey had the Black and Amber on the front foot early on and though Róisín Begley and Amy Keating settled Clare nerves, a Gaule goal from a penalty just before the change of ends left it 1-6 to 0-3.
The Bannerwomen refused to be cowed by that setback or the vaunted opposition and restricted Ann Downey’s charges to just three points after the resumption, from Player of the Year Anne Dalton, Gaule and Morrissey.
Indeed Clare ‘won’ the second half, with Keating the prime beneficiary of her teammates endeavours to convert four frees and give them plenty to build on for the remainder of the campaign.
Beth Carton’s increasing profile, and that of Camogie in Waterford, was illustrated by the Déise’s first ever All-Star being named WLR/Granville Hotel Waterford GAA Award winner for 2018 last weekend. And she showed just why with nine points as the Donal O’Rourke’s side survived a Wexford third-quarter rally to prevail by 1-13 to 1-5 at St Patrick’s Park in Enniscorthy.
Five of those scores came in the first half, when debutant Sarah Lacey also showed well at corner-forward and finished with two points by the end of proceedings. Skipper Niamh Rockett struck for a goal just before the interval, at which juncture it was 1-7 to 0-3.
Wexford resumed with intent and Anais Curran’s goal reduced the margin to two with 20 minutes left. But they were unable to score again, while Carton kept stretching the gap.
Caoimhe Costelloe was the star for Limerick with two late points and nine in total as the Shannonsiders left St Rynagh’s, Banagher with a 1-12 to 0-13 triumph.
The visitors settled into the tie very quickly and five Costelloe points, allied with Róisín Ambrose’s goal put six between the teams. Mairéad Teehan had two of her seven points by that stage, and did the business from four frees as the deficit down to one at the break, 1-6 to 0-8.
Arlene Watkins and Teehan gave Offaly the lead early in the second half and it was over and back all the way to the end, until Costelloe’s final, telling thrust.