Ulster Senior Camogie Championship final
Down v Antrim
Sunday, Clones, 2pm
By Niall Gartland
DOWN are bidding to retain their Ulster Senior Championship title on Sunday, and manager Martina Rooney is delighted that they have the opportunity to do so at Clones in the curtain-raiser to the Armagh-Cavan match.
This Down team came through a tough semi-final encounter against Derry on Saturday evening to qualify for the final, finishing strongly to triumph by 1-11 to 1-6.
It was their first competitive match in two months, but there was little sign of rustiness with Portaferry sharpshooter Niamh Mallon weighing in with six points, and Clonduff’s Paula O’Hagan scoring a crucial 1-2 in her first intercounty appearance of the season.
The Down camogs have underwent a considerable renaissance since Martina Rooney came on board as manager in the middle of last year’s league campaign.
Not only did they annex their first Ulster Senior Championship title in 13 years, but they had a fantastic All-Ireland Intermediate Championship campaign, booking a final spot at Croke Park where they lost out to a fine Cork team.
On paper, they might be even stronger than last year as Rooney has bolstered her panel. Sorcha McCartan – daughter of Gregory McCartan – starred as the Down minors won the All-Ireland Intermediate title earlier in the season, and made her senior intercounty debut against Derry. Castlewellan’s Aoife Keown is another fine young player, while Karen McMullan has returned to the fold this year after taking a sabbatical.
So everything seems to be in place ahead of Sunday’s final showdown against Antrim, and Martina Rooney says her players deserve to play in one of the most well-known stadiums in the land.
“That’s what these girls deserve, they’re training as hard as any man, any footballer or hurler in the country.
“They deserve to be seen on the biggest stage, showcasing the talent that there is. It’ll help give the girls the exposure they deserve.
“It’s always a good day when you’re on the bus to Clones. Hopefully there’ll be a bit of sunshine and a carnival atmosphere – we’re looking forward to that and we’re just delighted to be in the final.”
Despite the lengthy lay-off, Mayobridge native Rooney says that she was confident that Down would put in a performance against Derry on Saturday afternoon.
“We were ready for the Derry game, it was cut and thrust championship action.
“It was effectively the start of the championship season and the first game in the championship is always going to be nerve-racking but the girls were well up for it.
“They were composed and relaxed so it’s just about keeping them right for the final and we’ll be doing our best to get another victory, it’s all about gaining momentum at this stage.”
Clonduff stars Sara Louise Carr, Fionnuala Carr and Paula O’Hagan were on club duty earlier in the season but made their return to intercounty action against the Oak Leafers, and the team finished strongly to book their place in this year’s final.
In total, there were four Yellow Bellies which started the game against Derry, but there’s a healthy representation of other clubs as well with players from Mayobridge, Ballygalget, Ballycran, Castlewellan, Portaferry, Bredagh, Ballela and Ballyholland making up the rest of the panel.
A late goal from O’Hagan was pivotal in their semi-final victory and Rooney was thrilled with their strong finish to proceedings.
“It was good to get over the line, we started off great and everything was going to plan but we lost a bit of shape in the second-half.
“Derry came back as we knew they would, and it was a bit close for comfort for 15 middles in the second half.
“The girls dug deep and the girls that came on steadied the ship and we’re delighted to get over the line. That was a big, big game for us, we’d been looking forward to it for the last six to eight weeks.”
While Down are favourites for today’s match, it’s unlikely to be a walkover, but whoever takes the spoils will carry serious momentum heading into the championship.