All-Ireland showdown for Down camogs

All-Ireland showdown for Down camogs

5 September 2018

DOWN camogs go for All-Ireland glory on Sunday at Croke Park.

However, standing in their way is a Cork side who are red hot favourites to lift the coveted Jack McGrath Cup for a record fourth time.

Down have only won the competition once before when Kilclief’s Colleen Hynds led the Mourne girls to a sensational 1-12 to 1-8 win over the Rebel County and this year’s team are hoping to repeat the dose.

That will be easier said than done as Cork beat Down 0-18 to 0-6 earlier in the season and Martina Rooney’s charges will have to be at their best to prevent the Leesiders winning the competition for a fourth time.

Great credit must go to the Down manager who has led her side out of the proverbial wilderness to the verge of greatness.

This season has been the proverbial roller-coaster ride for the Down girls. Only five players attended a pre-season meeting and Down took the field for their National League opener with barely 15 players.

However, Rooney’s infectious enthusiasm has transformed Down and three months later the girls find themselves preparing for an All-Ireland showdown.

Sport is such a conundrum. All who have been involved in sport at any level can testify to the many frustrating and heartbreaking defeats sporadically interrupted by moments of sheer elation.

It’s these infrequent moments that keep players and coaches going year in year out in search of just one more. A half, a game even a season can be changed on a block, tackle, score or win and the momentum gathered can be infectious. 

A group, seemingly going nowhere except deeper into the abyss are suddenly galvanised, working for one another as if their lives depended on it. Success is like a lightning bolt. It can strike when you least expect it and you must keep the energy and drive going. You have to strike when the iron is hot.

Yet, as we all know, fairy tale endings only become fairy tale endings when the underdog performs to their very best and leaves the field of play with no regrets.

On their day the Down girls are a match for anyone as they have proved a number of times this year and they have also shown that when their backs are against the wall they can and have turned games around. 

Down have talented players all over the park. They will be led by Clonduff sisters Sara Louise and Fionnuala Carr, who were both on the side that won the All-Ireland Junior crown at Croke Park in 2014.

Throw in in Bredagh’s Catherine Rocks, Liatroim’s Aimee McAleenan and Dearbhla Magee and you have the nucleus of an attack-minded side. 

However, Portaferry’s twin terrors Niamh Mallon — skipper of the 2014 side — and Saoirse Sands are the jewels in the Down crown and they have the potential to cut any defence to shreds and no better place to do that than Croke Park on Sunday.

There were plenty of raised eyebrows when Down got the better of Tipperary thanks to a 58th minute goal from Sara Louise Carr to reach the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Intermediate final for the first time in 20 years.

It may have been a surprise, but there were indications that the Mourne girls were making real progress as the summer evolved.

Admittedly, the league was a disaster, as they lost all five outings, but then they got the better of Derry in the Ulster final. They followed that up with a draw against the much-fancied Oak Leafers in the opening round of the All-Ireland Championship.

That laid the platform for the rest of the campaign and they defeated Laois to bag the runners-up spot in Group 1 behind Cork, who had overcome all before them.

Tipperary topped Group 2 and were six points clear at half-time in the semi-final, but with the experiment of deploying Fionnuala Carr at full forward dispensed with, there was an immediate improvement as the Clonduff colossus began to exert greater influence from centre back. Nicole Kelly put the shackles on the dangerous Nicola Treacy too.

Meanwhile, Niamh Mallon was busily keeping the umpire busy as she racked up nine points, seven from placed balls. That brought Down in touch and Sara Louise Carr, who got married earlier this year, pounced for the definitive goal to go with her earlier two points from play.

Cork will be desperate to get over the line having lost the last two deciders, including last year’s to Meath after a replay. 

Much like their senior counterparts, they have cruised through to the final, finishing the group phase with a positive scoring differential of 65 points, compared to Down’s -2. Indeed, the Rebels were 12-point victors when the teams met in Páirc Esler in July. 

The Leesiders possess a lot of firepower with Finola Neville, Caroline Sugrue and Katelyn Hickey well able to hit the target. Minor star Cliona Healy came off the bench to have a big impact in the semi-final win over Galway, scoring three points in as many minutes soon after her second-half introduction to edge the Leesiders clear and finishing with four.

Healy wasn’t involved when the Leesiders garnered the Division 2 League title, but she and a handful of other colleagues from the All-Ireland-winning Minor Championship side have made the step up and with that sort of ability to be called upon, they will be hard to beat.