Championship previews including semi- finals
Doherty Wood Shavings Junior Championship semi-final
Ballycastle : Dunloy v Armoy
Doherty Wood Shavings Junior Shield final
St Paul’s : St Paul’s v Ahoghill
Last year’s beaten Junior finalists Dunloy can get back into the decider this Wednesday evening when they play Armoy in Ballycastle.
After winning Division 3 last year, Dunloy have spent this season in Division 2 and finished just below halfway, a creditable enough performance given that many of the players are quite young.
They also took out St Paul’s in the first round of the Junior championship and that was a St Paul’s team that finished runners-up to Loughgiel in Division 3.
However since that game, they have lost Mary Martin (scorer of 0-7 against St Paul’s) as she featured in the narrow senior championship defeat to Ballycastle.
However the overall team unit is stronger than their opponents Armoy who had a comfortable first round victory over St Enda’s. However the context is that Armoy finished in the second half of the Division 3 league table while Dunloy were winning games in the grade above them.
Players like Marie Hamilton. Lucia McCormick, Niamh Butler and the Devlins (Ciara and Caitriona) will work hard, but I can’t see them stopping Dunloy reaching a second successive final.
The other game at Junior level is for the Doherty Wood Shavings Shield with holders St Paul’s Belfast gaining home venue against Ahoghill.
This should be an evenly balanced game as both teams finished close to the top of Division 3, but simply encountered strong first round opponents in the championship.
St Paul’s went down by 2-13 to 1-6 against Dunloy, while Ahoghill tested Loughgiel at times before losing on a 4-10 to 3-18 score-line.
Home venue will suit the Belfast side and they have quite a few strong players in their team. Ahoghill have some fine young players coming through in Aine Graham and Maura Downey who both featured in the All-Ireland Under 16 final on Saturday and Caitriona Graham who captained the Antrim minors to their All-Ireland title earlier in the season. Indeed Áine and Maura accounted for all but a point of their side’s total against Loughgiel.
Noreen Graham was well held against Loughgiel but if the former Saffron senior can exercise an increased influence on the game in this final, Ahoghill could well upset the form-book and relieve St Paul’s of the Shield.
Darragh’s Joinery Antrim Intermediate semi-finals
Ahoghill : Brídíní Óga Glenravel v Cargin
Cloughmills : Loughgiel v Ballycastle
When Cargin fired in seven goals against holders St John’s in the opening game of the Darragh’s Joinery Antrim Intermediate championship, it may have raised a few eyebrows. But the Corrigan Park side was significantly changed from this time last year and the respective Division 2 league positions reinforced this; Cargin are up in the top three while the Johnies proper up the table with just one win and a draw this season.
However for Cargin it was a milestone victory, their first in the Intermediate grade after collecting the Junior title in their debut year in camogie. This and their league position consolidates the good development work being done in the club to support the strong senior players that backbone the team.
Those seniors still lead the line, although Eleanor Mallon has moved out of goals on to the edge of the square and down the centre they are pretty strong with Katie Laverty, Cathy Carey, Paula Mccann and Katie McAnely all very experienced players.
Brídíní Óga recovered from that Junior final defeat two seasons ago to follow Cargin to the county and provincial double and they have dipped their feet into the Division 1 league this season after finishing close to the top of Division 2 last season. That has resulted in 11 straight defeats, some heavy, and they entered the championship quarter-final at the start of August with plenty of questions over them.
However they put Tír na nÓg to the sword 5-10 to 3-8, with some periods of very good play, although they did concede some poor scores that kept Randalstown longer in the game than they should have been.
Shauna Kelly, who scored two of the goals that evening, will miss this semi-final and her forceful play in the forward line will be missed. It will be interesting to see who Glenravel bring in to the pivotal centre-forward position to create the openings for their young and speedy forwards.
On the plus side Laoise McKenna has returned after missing most of the season through illness and she has really steadied the team at centre-half back with cousin Ellen Hynds now in midfield.
This should be a close game with the youth and speed of Brídíní Óga up against the power and experience of Cargin’s key players. It should go to the wire.
The other semi-final is not expected to follow the same path with Loughgiel’s 8-19 to 0-1 destruction a pointer for Ballycastle to work towards.
The Shamrocks are once again unbeaten for the season and the winners of Division 2 with full points. They have been running up very high score-lines right throughout the league and grading does not seem to have hit them as hard this season as in previous seasons.
Roisin McCormick’s addition this year has been a big boost with the underage star able to kill off games with her blistering pace and finishing power.
Charley McCarry is another player that can put away scores, while the McKillops, Finvola McVeigh and Lucia McNaughton are other young players who have got senior experience over the past couple of years.
Ballycastle have quite a few players who featured in the club’s minor championship success earlier in the season with Orla Donnelly a strong full-back and Maria Bakewell’s forceful running capable of grabbing a goal or two.
Rhona Torney and Laura Dallas add a bit of experience, but by the same token, many of the younger players who have featured in the league have been moved up to the senior squad and are ineligible for this grade.
They are neighbouring clubs who have both enjoyed a lot of success at underage and school level, so there will be a determination from the ‘Castle to stay in the game as long as possible. However the reality is that Loughgiel has too much strength in key areas and they should be through to the final.
Fire Stop and Seal Antrim Senior camogie semi-finals
3pm Portglenone Geraldine’s v Ballycastle MacQuillan’s
4.30pm Loughgiel Shamrocks v Ruairí Óg Cushendall
Both Portglenone Geraldine’s and Ballycastle MacQuillan’s had close quarter-final games a fortnight ago in the Fire Stop and Seal Antrim Senior camogie championship and their meeting in the opening game of the semi-final double-header at Glenravel on Saturday should also be a close affair.
Ballycastle left it very late against Dunloy with Niamh O’Neill finishing off Kathryn Donnelly’s penetrating run in injury time with a goal for a 2-7 to 0-12 victory.
They also started well with a Niamh Donnelly goal, but in between there was a lot of inaccurate shooting, including from frees, although Caoimhe Wright steadied the ship when moved on to placed balls.
The Town side was solid enough in defence with the three minors, Cliodhna Donnelly, Bronagh McKeague and Catherine McShane all showing up well around the experienced Emma Connor.
Portglenone’s Katie McAleese has been their queen bee for quite some time now and her experience was crucial in seeing them come from 2-1 to 0-0 down after ten minutes to work out a 1-10 to 2-5 victory over Rossa in their quarter-final. Katie eventually finished with 0-7.
But they had a very poor start although the relocation of Caitriona Hasson to a marking corner-back slot on Mairiosa McGourty took a lot of pressure off their defence.
Anna Kelly has had a good season at midfield for club and county and is always worth a score or two while the return of Louise Crozier should also help in the scoring stakes with Niamh McKee’s pace a threat in the corner.
There has been little between the teams this season, but Ballycastle look stronger than they did two seasons ago when they reached the final for the first time and they get a hesitant vote to reach another decider.
Expect their final opponents to be reigning champions Loughgiel, aiming for a fourth successive title and 20th in total.
The Shamrocks have been unbeaten (again) in the league as they begin their championship campaign having been given a bye in the quarter-finals.
They are strong all over the pitch with young minor Amy Boyle developing into an outstanding midfielder.
Racquel McCarry, Emma McMullan and Caitrin Dobbin carry a huge scoring threat to any defence and Cushendall’s should be well stretched.
Ruairí Óg also didn’t have a quarter-final game and are hoping to improve on a patchy league campaign that peaked with wins over Rossa.
They have plenty of good hardworking young players such as the Cosgrove and McKillop sisters, Nuala McQuillan and Colleen Patterson while Noeleen Cosgrove has impressed in goals.
However they will struggle to get scores against a well organised defence built around the Connolly sisters and Orlagh O’Hara could well find herself out round midfield scavenging for possession.
Yes, Loughgiel are very much the favourites for the championship outright and I can’t see them slipping up in this semi-final.