By Shaun Casey
ALL-IRELAND finals don’t come along every season, so the Derry camogs are savouring the build up to Sunday’s Intermediate showdown with Meath.
All the hard work and tough graft has been done at this stage, so fine-tuning tactics and softening some injury concerns is all training has consisted of recently. The team held a meet and greet with the players last Friday and that has added to buzz in the camp.
“It’s something to look forward to, something to embrace,” said manager PJ O’Mullan, who has guided Derry to the final in his first season in charge.
“There are very few teams that can get to All-Ireland finals every year so we’re happy that we’ve managed to achieve that but that’s only job half done. We’ll be looking to try and finish the job on Sunday.
“We had organised the open night around our training, we were fit to get our training schedule done and we added an extra night in so that people could go, relax and enjoy the meet and greet and it was wonderful.
“There’s a buzz around the county at the minute, the u-16 team were playing in an All-Ireland final and thankfully won last Saturday and that helped attract a bigger crowd on Friday night.
“There’s a sense of purpose, a sense of relaxation and a sense of what could be for the girls, so I think everyone is embracing it and enjoying and looking forward to it.
“When you’ve only two weeks between a semi-final and a final, bear in mind that we went to extra-time the last day, fitness levels are good, so you’re just trying to nurture through the wee knocks that we have and fine tune things.
“We’ve been doing a bit of homework on Meath, I’m sure they’ll be doing a bit on us, and try and keep everybody fit and fresh and hope that when we get to Sunday, we have a full boat, and everybody is in good form.”
Derry face a Meath side that edged out their league meeting back in March by two points, but the Oak Leafers won’t be reading too much into that result. “First of all, they’re a good team, they came through a tough draw,” added O’Mullan.
“We played them in the league down in Meath and they beat us by two points, and they were just the better team on the day. That was winter, pitches were soft, and the grass was long, it’s a different scenario now.
“We’re in the middle of the summer now, playing in the best playground in the world as I was told once, the ball will be moving fast. But they have players that would grace any senior team in Ireland, and we’ve got players the same so it should be an interesting final.”
The best playground in the world. Of the Derry side that last claimed All-Ireland glory in 2012, only Aoife Ní Chaiside remains standing – the only player in the squad to have trodden on the hallowed turf of Croke Park.
“If someone said back in January that your last game this year is going to be an All-Ireland final in Croke Park, it’s the biggest day in the camogie calendar,” O’Mullan continued.
“These girls are getting to showcase their talents on the biggest day and it’s where every player aspires to be so I don’t think will have any factor in it.
“Aoife herself, she’s joint captain along with Aine (McAllister) and I said to the girls last week to listen to her and take whatever experience she has. She’s been there, she’s done it.
“But after Sunday these girls will be able to say that we’ve been there and done it as well so whatever information Aoife is passing on to them, Aoife has free reign to do that.
“She’s a smart lady, she’s a fantastic leader and a fantastic captain, a fantastic player, so we’re very lucky to have her on our panel.”
O’Mullan’s team, who should have a full hand to pick from outside of some long-term injuries, have been in great form all year. Up front, they’re racking up big scores, but it’s been their defensive performances that have got them where they are.
“We’ve only conceded one goal in the whole championship. In fairness, the group we got in the championship, we were playing teams that were a league below us, so we were probably expected to put up scores.
“Our scoring average, I know they look good, but we maybe only have a 55 per cent return rate where you’d be looking 75-80 per cent to try and win a big championship match.
“The day against Kilkenny (in the semi-final), we were up to 75-80 per cent return rate, I think in extra-time we had 11 shots and 10 points and in normal time we had 15 shots and 11 points or something like that.
“That was the difference, the defence has been wonderful, the forwards are putting up good scores, but the forwards improved the last day and they have showed continued improvement and if the defence keeps doing what it’s doing, we’ll be in with a great chance.”