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Down camogs bidding for semi-final berth

DIVISION TWO QUARTER-FINAL

Down v Cork

Saturday, Portlaoise, 5pm

By Niall Gartland

IT’S been a funny sort of season for the Down camogs both on-and-off the pitch, but they’re still standing in Division Two and are looking forward to Saturday’s quarter-final clash against Cork’s second team.

First of all, it emerged early this year that Down camogie would remain in the Intermediate Championship even though they won last year’s All-Ireland title. There was an outcry from players about the structures, however, so the Camogie Association performed a swift u-turn and they’ll play in the Senior Championship after all.

On top of that, it seemed like they would have a new person at the helm this season. Derek Dunne was all set to stand down, but the players and county board convinced him to stay on for another season, with the lure of playing in the All-Ireland Senior Championship a major part of his decision to give it another go.

It probably wasn’t the most stable start to the new season, especially as collective training was banned due to the pandemic, but it was still something of a surprise when they lost their first group stage match against Antrim, whom they deservedly beat in last year’s All-Ireland Intermediate Championship final. Down were arguably the better team in patches, but they could have no real complaints by the final whistle either.

That set up an all-important clash against Derry nearly a fortnight ago, a match Down simply had to win to keep alive their hopes of winning the league title.

They came up with the goods when it really mattered, clinching a 3-16 to 0-19 victory against the Oak Leafers. One of their unsung heroes, goalkeeper Catherine McGourty, had a day to remember as the Ballycran stalwart made three super saves in the first half. At the other end of the pitch, usual suspects like Paula O’Hagan and Niamh Mallon did the damage on the scoreboard, but Sorcha McCartan is also deserving of mention as she was absolutely brilliant in the half-forward line.

The Down players won’t need reminding that they lost to their quarter-final opponents Cork in the 2018 Intermediate final, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge in the last few years.

On that occasion, they lost by six points. Caitriona Collins scored a goal and six points for Cork while the then-minor star Saoirse McCarthy added four from play, but neither are playing for the intermediate team these days, and they qualified for the quarter-finals despite losing by Galway at the weekend.

Down would love to win a league title, and it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that they do so, but the feeling is that they haven’t yet hit the heights of last season. In particular, they conceded too many fouls against Derry, so they need to work on their discipline. Every game should bring them on further, and they’ll be quietly confident of doing the business against Cork.

Their manager Derek Dunne, a Laois man, knows the Portlaoise venue like the back of his hand which shouldn’t do their chances any harm as well.

Verdict: Down

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