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Clare eager to slay champions

Clare v Armagh
at Conneff Pk Clane (Kildare), Saturday 4.30pm
(Alan Doheny, Laois)

CLARE face a tough task on Saturday afternoon when they come up against reigning champions Armagh in the All-Ireland Premier Junior Camogie semi final.
The Northerners came back from conceding two first half goals against Limerick in last week’s quarter final to return to the last four stage. Ann Marie McGann, joint manager of the Clare team, is aware that Armagh will seek to bring strong physicality to the game while she is aware of the threat their captain Ciara Donnelly, who scored 13 points in last year’s All Ireland final win, will provide.
“We’ve seen Armagh play. Limerick were on top in the first half against them last weekend, then they brought a sweeper which invited Armagh on. They are a very physical team so we have to match that and outwork them. Ciara Donnelly is a top class player. She was scoring from everywhere against Limerick so we need to watch her.”
“Her sister Leanne is another top player while their no.10 (Ciara Hill) was flying it against Limerick so we know we have to be strong at the back. We need to up the ante and set the tone early in the game.”
The sides will travel to Clane with Clare only having one Championship outing after a heavy Munster final defeat to Kerry, who play in the intermediate grade.
“We let ourselves down at the start of that Kerry game. We were happy enough with two quarters of the game, but we know they are a top side. They are staying intermediate this year so they are a team you would aspire to be like. There is no shame in losing to them.”
Ann Marie McGann and Tim McGrath’s side were removed from the 2020 All-Ireland Premier Junior Championship after the tightening of government restrictions late last year meant only one team per county would be permitted to field a team. McGann insists her side are not focusing on not being allowed to compete for All Ireland honours last year and are instead focused on the task at hand this Saturday.
“The last year has been left aside. There were a lot of girls disappointed that we were pulled out last year. It has been a hard long year for everyone. We are just focused on this Saturday and on Armagh.”
“We took a fair trimming from Kerry two years ago at this stage of the competition. They’ve gone on to show their class since but we’ve about 10 of the panel still involved from that day so we would like to rectify that and move one step further.”
Clare defeated a stubborn Roscommon side when they ground out a 1-10 to 0-9 win before Kildare were unable to field a team in what was Clare’s final group game which meant Ann Marie McGann and Tim McGrath’s side topped the group and qualified for the semi final stage.
Meanwhile, Armagh have had three competitive outings including the win last weekend against Limerick although McGann believes her side’s preparations has them ready for a big performance against the reigning champions.
“We’ve had three weeks to get our gameplan right. We would have preferred to have the game against Kildare, even if they brought just younger players, the game would have stood to us. We will come in fresh so hopefully that will help us. They (Armagh) had a lot of games and a lot of travelling to do so the games could benefit them or they could tire out before the end. We’ve had outstanding training sessions and we’ve crammed in the challenge matches so hopefully that all stands to us.”
Niamh O’Gorman looks set to miss out with an ankle injury she picked up in the warm up ahead of the Munster final defeat to Kerry while Sixmilebridge’s Deanna Considine (ankle) is in a race against time to be fit. Caoimhe Kelly, Sarah Ní Cheallaigh and Caoimhe Carmody have all been called in to the panel ahead of this game.
So how do Clare beat this formidable Armagh side?
“I think if we are to win then we need all our panel to stand up and be counted. It doesn’t matter what number is on your back, you could be called in at any time. We need to bring a mix of skill and physicality.”
“Our backs need to be tight while we need to be clever in possession. It’s a narrow pitch which may suit them so we need to use the width of the pitch and try take our scores when we can. At the end of the day semi finals are there to be won so hopefully we can do it.”

by Ivan Smyth

Banner hoping to raid the Orchard

IT’S rare, outside of senior level, for the holders of an adult All-Ireland title to be able to defend their crown. However, after the Premier Junior race was decimated due to the government ruling that only one team could represent each county, Armagh certainly took full advantage to bridge a 27 year gap to their last All-ireland title in December.
Replicating that feat against a replenished field would be a justification of Armagh’s development and finally catapult them back to intermediate level led by scoring sensation and captain Ciara Donnelly.
Last year’s championship reshuffle provided a motivating factor for Clare to utilise though, having been excluded from last year’s competition following an opening round victory over Offaly.
However, while the Banner have negotiated their way back to the penultimate stage, the same juncture as in 2019 when going down to eventual champions Kerry in Cusack Park, the reality is that Ann-Marie McGann and Tim McGrath’s side have only had to win one match to get there.
Indeed, while Armagh have played three championship ties, it’s a month since Clare edged out Roscommon, not ideal preparation for an All-Ireland Semi-Final after receiving a walkover from Kildare seven days later.
In addition, Armagh are fresh from a rousing quarter-final victory over 2019 finalists Limerick, who beat Clare in the Division 3 league and were favourites to set up another Shannonside derby after finishing top of Group 3.
Limerick were six point up at one stage but a never-say-die Armagh remained persistent as their focus is firmly on retaining their All-Ireland title. Clare have a glorious opportunity to upset the odds but need to hit the ground running after such a long absence from competitive action.
Clare actually saw off Armagh by eight points two years ago on their way to the All-Ireland Semi-Final but face a much more determined unit this time around which will require the Banner’s optimum to progress to a first final since the senior side claimed victory in 2008.

by Eoin Brennan

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