The 2019 Clare Senior Camogie Championship gets underway on Monday evening, with Inagh-Kilnamona bidding for a fourth consecutive McMahon Cup.
There are plenty contenders lining up to have a crack at the champions who have contested every final since 2015. Joining them in Group One for this year’s championship are Kilmaley, Truagh/Clonlara and newly crowned intermediate champions Kilkishen-Bodyke.
Clare Senior Camogie Championship Group One
After overseeing the most successful period in their history, Margaret Lafferty called time on her spell on the sideline after guiding her side to another title last year. A new management team led by joint managers Eugene Foudy and Paul McInerney take over the reins for the coming season, and will bring plenty experience to the role. Along with dominating the county scene over the last few years, Inagh-Kilnamona have also made real strides on the provincial front and have come agonisingly close to summiting that peak in recent times.
The champions will be strongly fancied to emerge from the group stages and with their experience of managing the knock-out stages, there is no reason to think that they won’t push on to yet another final. They had to battle past a serious test against Scariff-Ogonnelloe to capture the Division One league title earlier in the campaign and that experience will have chastened them for the task ahead.
Joint Ashbourne winning captain Clare Hehir will be leading her club into battle once more this year and feels everyone is ready for what lies in store.
“We can’t take anything for granted now at this stage because you get nothing easy. There is no point in thinking about winning cups or anything like that, it is just the first round of championship that you need to focus on and that is what we are doing. Any day you go out you can learn something from it and we have had the chance in recent times to extend our year to go to the Munster Final and that really improves you. We are hoping we can take what we have learned and apply it to this year’s championship and start again” she said.
The south-east Clare side are another who are under new management in 2019, as Eddie Dillon takes over the reins. The last few years have seen steady progress for the club, with back to back Senior B titles in 2015 and 2016 before making it consecutive Senior A semi-final appearances in 2017 and 2018 which both ended in narrow defeats to Newmarket-on-Fergus. Last year’s showdown between the sides was only settled in extra-time while they also held the champions to a draw when they met in the group stages.
Ellen Horgan captains them this year and admits they are hoping to build on the progress of recent seasons.
“We are going in hopeful as we do every year and there is really is so little between the teams in the senior championship. We all know that Inagh-Kilnamona have that extra edge and have the titles to stand over, but we are preparing as best we can. Scariff-Ogonnelloe will be in the mix too and they are coming through as a really strong team so there is plenty to think about before you can allow yourself to get caught up in talks of semi-finals or finals. It is a cliché but you really do have to take each game as it comes because you never know what way teams are going to turn out for championship. We are gunning for it this year and we really feel that we would love to get to a county final but we can’t allow ourselves to be thinking that far ahead either” she noted.
Having enjoyed a golden era which saw them win four titles in seven years, the more recent past has been a difficult one for Kilmaley. Since that last title was garnered in 2014, Kilmaley have not been back to the showpiece event while the last two seasons have seen them involved in the relegation mix. They have maintained their senior status in each of those contests which is something they will draw heart from , but another tough group campaign awaits. Lisa Kennedy is captain for 2019 and feels they have plenty to build on for the coming season.
“We are a team in transition and we have put a lot of work in. It doesn’t really feel like we have been waiting too long for it and the more training sessions we can get under our belts the better. We are looking forward to the first round getting underway and hopefully we can come out the right side of it. We have a lot of girls aboard and others tied up with county squads so it can be difficult to get them around for the club scene. We are a young team that are coming up through the lines and hopefully this year we can stick together and improve on last year. Our main focus this year is to maintain our senior status and keep competing at that level. If we can keep that going this year, then we will be happy” she said.
The newcomers to senior championship will be hoping to maintain that status while building on the progress since the East Clare neighbours joined forces. 2017 saw Kilkishen relegated from the top tier after an inconsistent few seasons during which they twice contested the Senior B final either side of another relegation playoff.
One of their key players is Kate O’Gorman and she feels the positivity of recent years can help to drive them forward.
“The target for us is just to win games and it is simple as that really. We have Kilmaley in the first round and we will see that as a focal point. It was great for us to get back up senior and our target now is just to not slip back down again so we need to keep driving forward. We need to just keep progressing and winning games. Even if we don’t manage to get to the knockout stages, we just have to keep moving forward. Once we don’t go back down, I think everyone will be happy. We are going into our third year with the two clubs together now and the first of those was just all about getting to know each other really, and now last year and this year has seen us really come together and drive each other on and people don’t see it as two different clubs any more. Coming up last year proved that both clubs needed each other at the time so hopefully we can build on that” she noted.
Clare Senior Camogie Championship Group Two
Newmarket-On-Fergus could be described as the most consistently unlucky side in recent years. They have been in every final since 2015, but the last three have seen them having to give best to Inagh-Kilnamona. The Blues will be hoping to put that right this time around and in the process prevent the champions from completing a four-in-a-row.
The first step on that road comes against the perceived new kids on the block in the form of Scariff-Ogonnelloe, and with derby showdowns to come against Sixmilebridge and Clooney-Quin, victory for the Blues is vital to get them off on a positive footing. Experienced players like Laura McMahon and Carol O’Leary will be central to the challenge and O’Leary admits the excitement is building as championship approaches.
“We are always looking forward to the championship and I think that is where we come into our own a lot of the time. We have had so many players training all year so everyone is really looking forward to getting out and getting games. We take a break after the league finishes so that means everyone is fresh and ready to go once championship rolls around. It can be hard to keep it going sometimes too when championship runs so late but we are looking forward to getting it going now. It doesn’t really matter who we have in the group with us because we are looking to win every game we go out for. We are only looking at ourselves. Each of the teams will bring their own challenge but we have real belief in our own group and that is what we are concentrating on” she said.
Outside of Inagh-Kilnamona’s dominance, one of the main stories of the Clare camogie championship in the last few years has been the rise of the East Clare side. 2014 saw them drop out of the top tier but a renewed effort led to the intermediate title being annexed in 2016. That progress was built on in some style in the last two seasons with consecutive semi-final appearances. The journey came agonisingly close to reaching another major milestone when a late surge saw Inagh-Kilnamona snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the Division 1 League final, and it would be no surprise to see a repeat of that showdown when the McMahon Cup is at stake later in the autumn.
One person who will be hoping that unfolds is county star Ciara Doyle who is confident the squad are ready to compete for honours.
“We are really looking forward to it now and training has been going really well over the last few weeks. We were sickened to lose out to Inagh-Kilnamona in that league final in the manner that we did but we want to take that now and use it to move on to the next level. Every team will have the aim of getting their hands on that cup on county final day and we are certainly hoping we can go that far but we cannot look past Newmarket in our first game so that is the immediate focus now. It will be a big test but nothing will ever come easy in senior championship and there will be plenty obstacles to overcome. Newmarket are an experienced side and we will be taking nothing for granted but we have faith in our girls that we can get the right result. We were talking about making progress in the first year we were up and building on that last year but there is no more talk about that now. We want to get to the final stages and we want to get that cup back to Scariff-Ogonnelloe” she stated.
You have to go all the way back to 1990 since Sixmilebridge were last crowned champions, but recent years have garnered silverware for the club. Three Senior B titles since 2015 including the last two have come their way, while 2016 saw them beaten in the championship semi-final. This year marks a decade since they were last in the decider and they will be eager to bridge that gap.
It is not an easy task that lies ahead, and while Chloe Morey will no doubt be continuing in the role of chief scorer, the loss of fellow All-Star Maire McGrath is a big one. Neighbours Clooney-Quin provide the opposition in the opening round and given the cut-throat nature of the group, nothing less than victory is required to kick-start the campaign.
Niamh Corry will also be central to the challenge, and she is hopeful they hit the ground running.
“It has been a bit of a build to this really across the summer training and waiting for the first round so hopefully now we can get off to a winning start. That is our immediate aim and we are not looking any further than that. Improving on recent years is a big aim for us because for a few seasons we failed to get out of the group stages and there has been a bit of a shake-up for us this year in that we have not had Newmarket or Scariff-Ogonnelloe for a few years now so we are really aiming to get back to the knock-out stages. The training has really stepped up in the last few weeks in particular since the county girls came back to us and everyone is just eager to get going now at this stage” she said.
The last few years have been something of a mixed bag for Clooney-Quin as the wait goes on for a first title since 1944. Three consecutive finals in 2012, 2013 and 2014 saw them almost end that famine, while the last four was as far as they got for the next two seasons. Since then, the Senior B Final has brought the curtain down on their campaigns with defeat to Sixmilebridge on both occasions with another tough group campaign lying in store.
The first group outing offers a chance to atone somewhat for the last two years when they cross swords with Sixmilebridge once more where the losers will find themselves on the backfoot with tough games against Scariff-Ogonnelloe and Newmarket to come.
Marie Halpin will be hoping to lead her side back to the decider and she says everyone is ready to get the season underway.
“We have been training for this since January and February so it is all about going out and giving it our all in the first round. Since the county girls came back the intensity of training has really gone up another level. It is a tough group and our first game is against Sixmilebridge who have beaten us for the last two years in the B final. We will probably be the underdogs out of all the teams in the group and it makes the first game almost do or die. The standard of club camogie in Clare has gone so high over the last few years and you don’t really know who is going to win any game because it is so competitive. If we lose our first game, we are facing into Scariff-Ogonnelloe and Newmarket who are amazing teams so all we can think about for now is that first round and take it from there” she said.