CATHERINE MCGOURTY: Fingers crossed for the Ulster teams

2019 WAS the last time two Ulster teams battled it out for All Ireland Club honours in Croke Park when Sleacht Néill and Clonduff both came out victorious in the Senior and Intermediate club finals.

This weekend Clonduff will again compete for the All-Ireland Intermediate title, with their opponents James Stephens from Kilkenny.

With three All Ireland Senior Club titles and club members such as Eoin, Philly and Fan Larkin and of course Brian Cody, ‘the Village’, as they are commonly known, is steeped in hurling tradition. But this is the first time their camogs will set foot to play in an All-Ireland Final in Croke Park. Meanwhile the Down and Ulster Champions have been there and done that. They have a great blend of youth and experience led by, Paula O’Hagan and sisters Sara Louise Graffin and Fionnuala Carr.

Having watched their All-Ireland semi-final against Munster champions Clanmaurice last Saturday, you have to be impressed by the Clonduff resolve. An awkward bounce on the 3G goal mouth left ‘keeper Katie McGilligan no chance for the Kerry team’s goal. From then on, Clonduff trailed the game but to me always looked in control in clawing back the deficit. The game was taken into extra extra time before Clonduff took complete control and rightfully earned their sport in this weekend’s Intermediate final. Recovery is certainly at the tip of the tongue for this group and is vital after a gruelling 90 minutes in freezing conditions.

James Stephens overcame 2012 All Ireland Intermediate winners Castlegar in another tough and physical battle but after taking an early lead the Kilkenny team always looked to be in control. Clonduff will look to curb the influence of Sophie O’Dwyer by minimising scoring opportunities after the sharpshooter, scored 0-7 of her teams tally last Saturday.

It is hard to judge who will come out on top but having seen Clonduff quite a few times this year I have been very impressed with how they manage games whether in front or behind. I think their previous experience in Croke Park will help massively and I hope to see them crowned champions again on Saturday.

Meanwhile in the senior decider Sarsfield of Galway return for the sixth time in seven years hoping to clinch their third title.

Standing in their way are Ulster and Antrim champions Loughgiel who are playing in their first ever senior club final. By the narrowest margin, Sarsfields beat St. Vincent’s of Dublin in last weekend’s semi final in Birr.

It looked like the Galway team were going to stroll to victory leading 0-8 to 0-2 at half time. But their Dublin opposition came out flying in the second half. As usual, Siobhan McGrath stepped up for Sarsfields to slot home a penalty to book their Croke Park visit.

Loughgiel overcame Munster and Tipperary champions Drom and Inch to make it to their first ever senior camogie club final. Annie Lynn, Caitrin Dobbin and Róisín McCormick did most of the scoring for the Antrim side, however Lucia McNaughton and Amy Boyle worked relentlessly all over the pitch to ensure they were supplied with quality ball.

This determined Loughgiel side defeated Sleacht Néill to win their first Ulster title since 2015. Having played in each final since 2015, they certainly have the bit between their teeth and hope to go all the way.

I am looking forward to two highly competitive games and fingers crossed we will see two Ulster winners by the end of play on Saturday.

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