Details and dates for the return of county camogie action were released this week. The Littlewoods National Leagues have been trimmed down to fit into a six week window from Saturday 15th May through to 20th/21st June with replays of the finals the following week. Otherwise knock-out games will finish on the day.
To achieve this the counties have been drawn together in groups of three or four neighbouring teams. Seconds teams have also been brought back into the lower divisions after being excluded from the championship last autumn on the grounds that they did not meet the criteria for “elite” status.
Although Down will play in the senior championship, they will contest Division Two of the league and are drawn along with Antrim and Derry in Group One. Group Three also has only three teams (Wexford, Kilkenny and Laois) while the other two groups have four teams in each.
And in a tough opener on Saturday 15th May, the Saffrons will be at home to Down the team that beat them in the All-Ireland Intermediate final a few weeks before Christmas.
Down will have a home game against Derry the following week and Antrim will travel to Derry on Saturday 29th May.
The top two teams in each of the four group will contest the quarter-finals while the bottom four teams across the groups will face relegation play-offs with the losers from the two games featuring in a relegation play-off at the end of June.
Antrim have entered a second team in the National League this season with a view to widening their player panel and also provide a stepping stone between minor and senior camogie. That team has been placed in Division Four.
There are two groups of four counties in Division Four and the winners and runners up in each group progress to the semi-finals.
Antrim are grouped in Section One with Wicklow and All-Ireland Junior B finalists from 2020 Tyrone and Cavan while Louth, Kildare, Roscommon and Mayo will be in Section Two.
Antrim will have two away games, to Tyrone on the opening weekend and to Wicklow on the last weekend of May. In between they will entertain Cavan.
On Tuesday evening I took a trip up to Belfast to get a few pics of the clubs training and what a perfect evening it turned out to be, perfect conditions for those returning to action. Most of the players I photographed hadn’t been together since last September when the Antrim championship ended and it was clear just much it meant to them to get back in action. Over at the Dub the Rossa hurlers were in flying form as Micky McCullagh put them through their paces, while down on the bottom pitch the footballers (those who are not ‘dual stars’) were working hard under the expert eye of Hugh McGettigan.
Over to Rossa Park where the U15 hurlers and ladies footballers were pickin up where they left off last season, while St Paul’s Under 13 hurlers who showing off their skills up at Naomh Pol. A sneak peak through the boundry fence captured Sarsfields minor footballers in action before heading dow the Glen Road to St Teresas where the hurlers and ladies footballs were shaking off the winter rust under the watchful eye of managers Seammy O’Hara and Seamus O’Neill. Philly Maguire had obviously had a training programme of his own during the lay-off as he was out front in the all the early sprints.
Down to Milltown where the new man in charge of St Gall’s Paddy Murray was putting them through their paces on the bottom pitch while Mickey Culbert jnr was taking charge of the ladies team on the main pitch. Up the Whiterock to O’Donnell’s where Corpus Christie Gaels minor football team were working hard in preparation for the new season.
Up to Corrigan Park where the Johnnies were in full flow, driven on by team manager Paddy Nugent and I have to say the place was looking in great shape, with the new stand forming the perfect backdrop for the action. Back down the Fall’s to catch the last few minutes of senior football training at Davitt’s. What a great set-up it is at the new Davitt Park. Team manager Gerard Nugent and his Coaches put the team through a hard programme.
Up the hill, our man on the inside, Kevin Herron, got a few shots of the senior hurlers in action while down in Moneyglass Elaine Kelly captured the action as the last season’s Intermediate champions St Ergnat’s got back at it under the management of brothers Peter and Martin Doherty.
Monday evening saw most club’s return to training for the first time since last September. Teams in action varied from Underage hurling and camogie to Senior Football. We here at the Saffron Gael haven’t had the pleasure of photographing any action since the Joe McDonagh Cup final back in December, so were glad to get back out to capture a few shots. Some clubs sent in their photos as well and we want to thank them for that. If your club have any pics from this week’s training sessions, please send them on.
Brídíní Óga Glenravel won their first ever Antrim A grade camogie title on their home pitch on Saturday morning with a determined and skilful display of attacking camogie in an entertaining league play-off decider with Dunloy.
The finalists, along with Loughgiel, had finished on top of the league last month. Brídíní Óga were drawn in a semi-final with Loughgiel last week and that extra game – and victory – seemed to have given them the boost they needed for the Dunloy challenge.
They started the final the more determined team and were able to gain control before the break. Dunloy probably edged general play during the second half, but the Glenravel girls had a good cushion on the scoreboard and their defence, led by Maria McKenna, Brónagh Laverty and Rachael Coulter closed off the route to goal.
Glenravel’s midfielders grafted well throughout and up front Niamh McKay and Shauna McDonnell repeatedly troubled Dunloy’s defence.
Caoimhe Molloy was outstanding in that Dunloy defence, as was Katie Laverty in the half-back line. Further out the likes of Eimear McMullan and Tierasha Smyth had their moments but overall the ferocity of Glenravel’s tackling blunted Dunloy’s scoring threat and, on this occasion, they had to settle for second best.
Niamh McKay opened the scoring after 4 minutes with a nicely-taken point, but Katie Laverty responded with a similar score from a free at the other end.
Clodagh Kerr’s strike from 35 metres after 8 minutes opened a gap and her team had the momentum and skill to capitalise. Shauna McDonnell struck off her left side for a super point from distance a few minutes later and Niamh McKay fired over from a narrow angle soon after to open up a 1-3 to 0-1 lead.
The game really went out of the visitors’ reach a couple of minutes before the break when Niamh McKay jinxed her way through to crash a shot off the underside of the bar into the net.
Then a couple of minutes later she and Niamh Donnelly created the opening for Aimee Traynor to also find the net from close range.
Turning around 3-3 to 0-1 down at the break, Dunloy faced a tough challenge, but they were soon off the mark with Clodagh O’Kane shooting an excellent point.
However the Glenravel team was battling hard all over the pitch and their opponents didn’t get time to settle on the sliotar.
That meant that there were no further scores until 7 minutes from the end when Niamh McKay pointed a free she had won herself.
Dunloy had a few chances after that from frees. Caoimhe Molloy pointed one of them but goal attempts from the others were cleared and Brídíní Óga saw out the game to claim their first A grade title.
2015 was a great year for All Saints, Ballymena when they won promotion to division 1 for the first time in 21 years. Today we take a look at the game that secured them promotion when they faced St. Enda’s Glengormley in the final game of the campaign at Slemish Park. The Hightown side needed a win to avoid relegation to division 3 and certainly put it up to the Ballymena men but in the end Felix McQuillan’s side won by three points to secure promotion amidst scenes of wild celebration.
ACFL Division 2
All Saints 1-15 St. Enda’s 1-12
The long wait for a return to Division 1 is over for All Saints Ballymena following this hard earned win over St. Enda’s of Glengormley at Slemish park on Sunday in the final game of this year’s Division 2 campaign. The visitors arrived in Ballymena with an entirely different goal with Division 2 survival their motivation, and they certainly made life difficult for a Ballymena side who were forced to fight all the way to gain the vital win.
All Saints made a bright opening with Sean McVeigh taking control at mid-field and Paddy McAleer causing early problems for the visitors on the edge of the square. The County panellist, showing his best form since his Summer sabbatical to America was giving his marker the run around and was dragged down with Damian Kelly pointing the resulting free in their first serious attack.
McAleer followed with another from play as the home side dominated the early exchanges and when the same player was dragged down again it was Dee Kelly who repeated his early fete with a fine point from an acute angle.
The visitors had hardly had a sniff of goal at this stage but in their first attack they opened up the All Saints defence and Ruairi Scott was fouled as he bore down on goal with the result a penalty which veteran corner-forward, Paul Darby confidently tucked away in the 8th minute.
Normal service appeared to have been resumed as Michael McCarry split the posts at the other end but St. Enda’s were now using a sweeper to good effect as they tried to contain a lively home attack and it was starting to pay dividends as a long ball into Ruairi Scott saw him turn his marker, Joe Rocks before sending over a fine point to tie the contest once more.
McCarry again edged the home side in front but the Glengormley side were matching All Saints blow for blow as the impressive Ruairi Scott curled a great point from 40 yards inside the upright to level the scores once more at the end of the opening quarter.
At this stage the All Saints management switched Emmet Killough to full-back in an effort to contain Scott who was giving his marker, Joe Rocks a torrid time with Rocks moving to centre-half but it was Paul Darby who put the visitors ahead for the first time from a twice taken free after his initial effort had gone wide with a defender penalised for encroachment.
The home side looked in a bit of trouble but they rallied and a well worked point from Rory McVeigh which involved Paddy McAleer, Joe Rafferty and Eoin Campbell had the contest all square once more with nine minutes remaining to the break.
The score that should have settled the Slemish Park side arrived in the 25th minute as Paddy McAleer chased a wayward pass from Damian Kelly and managed to keep the ball in play. He found Peter McReynolds running at the St. Enda’s defence before shooting but his shot dropped short. Keeper Paddy Flood came to claim but dropped the ball under pressure from Eoin Campbell who dived bravely to fist to the net.
This score should have handed the initiative to The Ballymena side but the visitors quite simply refused to panic and continued to frustrate their opponents with their short passing and methodical build ups and a point from Donal Walsh put them right back in touch as half time approached.
It was end to end stuff as both sides battled for supremacy and the final score of the half was to go the way of Felix McQuillan’s men as Paddy McAleer combined once more with Peter McReynolds and ‘Pizza’ finished with aplomb to leave his side with a two point lead at the short whistle.
The opening half had certainly been played with great energy and competitiveness with every ball fiercely contested but there was a nervousness in the All Saints play, perhaps the thought of failure so close to the finishing line was playing on their minds as both sides returned to second half action.
Peter McCann moved forward for the first time but a strong run from defence wasn’t matched by the finish as his shot went agonisingly wide and this miss was to set the tone for the second half. Ruairi Scott showed no such nerves as he closed the gap to the minimum with three minutes of the second half gone as St. Enda’s responded once more.
It got even worse for the home side as Minor star, Odhran Eastwood confidently stroked over the equaliser in the 4th minute to silence a good home support but a great interception from Phelim Killough and a strong run out of defence brought that support back to life.
Killough, who has had another excellent season, found Rory McVeigh with a long hanging pass and as his marker moved in to contest McVeigh found his brother Sean with a deft flick and the latter sent over an excellent point to restore his side’s lead.
This score seemed to lift the Ballymena side and a strong run from Joe Rafferty saw the defender turned attacker fouled and Michael McCarry confidently stroked over the resulting free to edge his side two in front with six minutes gone.
All Saints continued to create openings but some of their shooting certainly didn’t match their approach play as Rory McVeigh, missed a good chance before Sean McVeigh steadied the ship once more as he got on the end of a good move, instigated by Damian Kelly.
The home side looked to be taking control again but they received a set back after nine minutes when towering mid-fielder, Barney Logan went down injured following a heavy collision as he contested a breaking ball and it was obvious from his reaction that the big number 9 was going to play no further part in proceedings.
A six minutes stoppage ensued as Logan was removed from the field on a stretcher with Peter McNicholl coming on to replace him. When play resumed Odhran Eastwood served notice that this game was far from finished as confidently split the posts with a left footed effort.
Straight from the kick out Paddy McAleer won possession and set up Michael McCarry for a good point to restore All Saints three point advantage and when McAleer added another himself the eventual winners at last looked to be pressing home their advantage but they continued to miss chances.
Paddy Logan was called from the bench to steady the ship with a few eyebrows raised when Michael McCarry was called ashore but All Saints continued to press and Joe Rafferty and Sean McVeigh combined to set up Peter McReynolds who duly restored their four point advantage.
Paddy Logan made his first contribution as he rose to field the ball on the edge of the square before laying off to Joe Rafferty who pointed from close range and with six minutes of normal time remaining the finishing line looked tantalisingly close.
The visitors had other ideas however and quite simply refused to give up as Conan Lyttle responded with his first point of the game in the 25th minute as the Glengormley side continued to look dangerous when they broke from defence.
The tension was palatable as the game went into time added on with referee Jarlath O’Donnell deeming that there was a further 10 minutes to play and those 10 minutes must have seemed like an eternity as Ruairi Scott and Paul Darby hit the target for the visitors in response to a Peter McReynolds point for All Saints.
The full time whistle was greeted with a mixture of relief and elation as the big home support, who had turned out to be part of this historic occasion, rushed onto the field to greet their heroes. Those present were then privileged to witness a lovely moment as the team made their way to the end line to beckon one of their players, Niall McCarry onto the field to join in the celebrations.
Young Niall received a serious neck injury back in early July when playing for All Saints in the Feis Football final and the unassuming lad emerged from his father’s car wearing the Cinderella neck brace he has been forced to wear for the last three months.
Also joining in the celebration photograph were Jack Magill, who received a knee injury in the same game and is awaiting an operation and Conall Lemon who received a serious shoulder injury while playing for St. Louis in a McLarnon Cup semi-Final, four months ago.
Young Lemon had the pleasure of making a cameo appearance in All Saints final two league games and, God willing all three will be back in action when the Ballymena side make their long awaited return to Division 1 next season.
All Saints: Paul McCann: Phelim Killough, Joe Rocks, Joe Rafferty: Damian Kelly, Emmet Killough, Ciaran McGarry: Sean McVeigh, Barney Logan: Rory McVeigh, Peter McReynolds, Michael McCarry: Eoin Campbell, Paddy McAleer, Peter McCann. Subs: Peter McNicholl for Barney Logan, Paddy Logan for Michael McCarry, Conall Lemon for Eoin Gillan.
St. Edna’s: Paddy Flood: Colm McGowan, Phillip Curran, Conor Maxwell: Peter Healy, Kevin Hillen, Cormac Eastwood: Robert McElhone, Conan Lyttle: James McAuley, Odhran Eastwood, Donal Walsh: Paul Darby, Ruairi Scott, Gerard Crossey.