Eight teams begin the race for the Anne McMahon Cup this weekend but who will eventually prevail. Eoin Brennan met up with four leading pundits to gauge their views on the main contenders for this year’s County Senior Camogie Championship.
Catherine O’Loughlin (COL) – Clare’s first All-Star winner in 2005, having also previously been nominated in 2004.
Sylvia O’Brien (SOB) – Former Clare player who was a member of the 1993 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship winning side.
Carol Toomey (CT) – Former Newmarket-on-Fergus goalkeeper and captain of 2011 winning side. Has won titles for her club at all grades.
Brid MacNamara (BMN) – Clare Camogie PRO and back-to-back National PRO of the Year winner in 2011/12.
Before we look at the contenders for this year’s Senior Championship, how would you compare the standard of club camogie in the county in relation to when you played?
COL: The county has got stronger, we are a senior county now and that does feed down to club level as well. When you look at it, intermediate club teams have done well at junior level outside the county while seniors teams haven’t done so well at intermediate level, barring Kilmaley two years ago. So you’d have to say that the standard is good enough but that there is another level for clubs to try and get to.
SOB: You’re right because when we were playing in the 90’s, the club scene was very strong and therefore the county team was as well. Definitely club level has improved in the last two years, even this year in the league there was a big difference.
And what about the pace of the current game and age profile of the players?
BMN: The game is faster now. When you look back at the 2004 county final between Newmarket and Kilnamona in Cusack Park and compare it to last year’s county final, the pace of the game has got a lot faster and you have a bigger spread of younger players.
SOB: Yes it was a big thing for 16 year olds to play senior in our time but now it’s all 16 and 17 year olds playing…
BMN: And you’ll see that this year with Inagh-Kilnamona who have a very young team as well as Truagh-Clonlara who have done great work at underage and have gone from contesting C grades to winning A grades.
COL: I think there’s great work being done at development level in the county at underage, that has helped clubs and even looking at Féile over the past few years, that has been very beneficial for Clare camogie.
CT: I can see Truagh-Clonlara absolutely dominating Clare camogie in the coming years. What I have seen coming through the primary school in Clonlara, their players are fantastic and the work being done by the likes of Declan Fahy and John Fennessy is amazing.
COL: That’s not forgetting the schools successes in the last few years as well.
So to this year’s senior championship and while there are eight teams competing for the Anne McMahon Cup, are we only realistically talking about Newmarket-on-Fergus and Kilmaley as the main contenders once more?
COL: I think Sixmilebridge as well. I tipped them to be dark horses last year and still tip them to be this year but they have just seemed to disappoint when it comes to the crunch at senior level. So whether they can actually get over that barrier this year or not, I don’t know but I think if they can get over that barrier, they could win it.
SOB: I think if they won the Under 21, they’d roll on at senior level and they have a good chance against Newmarket in that Under 21 final.
CT: They do have the talent, there’s no doubt but I think they need the confidence and winning the Under 21A this year would give them the world of confidence. But I feel like you can’t just look at Newmarket and Kilmaley either. I mean Clooney-Quin have been in the final the last two years and they have fantastic players.
BMN: And they have defeated the reigning champions in the semi-final in both those years.
CT: They can’t be looked past as Deidre Murphy has the ability to walk the ball into the net at any point of any match so they have brilliant players and you just can’t look past them.
COL: You would wonder have they gone to the well too many times though? They are depending a lot on older players so when you go to the well a first time, yes they got back to the final again but still didn’t win it so it will be very hard to come back a third time.
So what of the current kingpins Newmarket and Kilmaley, having wrestled for control in the last six years, is the hunger still there?
CT: The fact that younger players are coming in all the time continues to gives them the edge. I mean Newmarket won the championship in 2010 and ’11 but I remember in 2011, a whole new bunch of players had come in like Niki Kaiser and Laura McMahon and to see them winning a senior championship at that age was the most amazing thing. And I think when you have younger players coming in all the time, it keeps the hunger going whereas if it was the same team year in, year out, the hunger and commitment may dwindle.
COL: I still think they are the main two teams but as has been proven in the last two years, they can be beaten so on any given day, any of the other six teams could beat one of them and knock them out.
SOB: On paper, Sixmilebridge should be the best team without a doubt but I just don’t think they have shown enough commitment.
BMN: They have a problem trying to gel things together and get it over the line.
CT: Having said that, It would only take one day for everything to go right for them and once they get a sniff of success at all, I just wouldn’t rule them out.
What about the other contenders? Kilkishen who are back-to-back Shield winners?
BMN: I think they need to make that next step and in order to do that, I think they need to get over that fear of being in a group with the Newmarkets, Kilmaleys and Clooneys. They do have the talent and have pushed Newmarket all the way in previous years.
What of Inagh-Kilnamona’s credentials?
BMN: They’re very young but what Carol said about Truagh-Clonlara, you could also say about Inagh-Kilnamona as it appears as if there are two teams that are going to dominate in the years to come because they are progressing extremely well at underage level. I think they have great build up play but their inexperience may go against them. If you saw them in the league semi-final this year, at half-time there was only two points between themselves and Kilmaley and it was their inexperience that went against them in the second half.
COL: But I don’t think they will fear anyone in the group. I mean the amount of matches they have lost in their careers, you could possibly count with two hands so these young players are used to winning and I wouldn’t rule them out of the mix in that group either.
BMN: I would’t rule them out either. In Group B, no offence to Kilkishen or Scariff-Ogonnelloe but you could put your house on Newmarket-on-Fergus or Kilmaley coming out but in the other group, it’s wide open.
COL: I think it’s still a step too far for Truagh-Clonlara this year, they are still building.
CT: Truagh have found it hard to progress from Intermediate to senior and that can happen but as I’ve previously said, they have the talent coming through.
BMN: They need to hold it together at senior for a couple of years but I think that Inagh-Kilnamona could pip Sixmilebridge for second place in Group A, with Clooney-Quin topping it. I think they can do it and if they’re are determined and focused enough, that they will do it.
And what of the newcomers Scariff-Ogonnelloe off the back of their great season last year in winning the county intermediate, Munster junior and contesting the All-Ireland Junior Club Final?
BMN: They are going to miss Marion O’Brien and Susan Vaughan massively. They are two huge losses and if Scariff-Ogonnelloe had the two of them, I’d actually fancy their chances of lifting the Senior B.
COL: I just think the group they’re in has nullified their impact for the championship. I mean if they were in the other group, you might be talking about them but I think the fact that they are in such a tough group with Newmarket, Kilmaley and Kilkishen makes it a difficult start at senior. I think they will be targeting a senior B win and building from there.
Okay we’ve discussed every team, let’s cut to the chase, who do you think will get out of the groups and into the semi-finals? Everyone seems to be agreed on Newmarket and Kilmaley in Group B but what of Group A?
COL: I think you’ll have two from Clooney-Quin, Inagh-Kilnamona and Sixmilebridge.
CT: I think the ‘Bridge will come out of that group…
SOB: I do too.
BMN: No I’m sticking to Inagh-Kilnamona, I can see them making the cup semi-finals along with Clooney-Quin.
SOB: No Brid, the ‘Bridge are too powerful, their county players are too good I think.
So is the majority decision, Clooney-Quin and Sixmilebridge to advance from the group?
CT: I would feel that with the ‘Bridge coming out on top but in saying that I wouldn’t know a lot about Inagh-Kilnamona.
SOB: I wouldn’t either, the younger girls I wouldn’t know.
COL: I think that Inagh-Kilnamona are going to rattle Clooney-Quin. I think it’s going to boil down to Round 3 for the deciding place in that group.
And the finalists? Another Kilmaley v Newmarket final?
SOB: I’d love if the Under 21A final was over so I could get a better perspective on Sixmilebridge.
CT: Just seeing the scores that the ‘Bridge have put up in the Under 21 Championship, I mean there are putting up crazy scores so I just can’t write them off. I’ve felt for years that they were going to do it and I know they haven’t but I just feel that they just need a break to go their way and then they could rattle it.
SOB: I think they had a massive chance in 2009 and didn’t take it. I think that that was their chance and if they had won it, they might have gone on to win four or five in a row with the team they have. But I do think it will be a Newmarket and Sixmilebridge final this year but probably Newmarket to win it.
Anyone else on a winner? Where do you put your money on? Someone new?
COL: If it is someone new, It’s going to be the ‘Bridge.
CT: yes I agree
But with a gun to your head, who would you opt for?
CT: I think Sylvia could be right about Sixmilebridge and Newmarket. I know you write off Kilmaley at your peril but I just have a funny feeling about the ‘Bridge this year. But like Sylvia, I think Newmarket might sneak it.
So while Brid happily sits on the fence as county PRO, the majority decision is for Newmarket to retain their crown but with a nervous glance over their shoulder at neighbours Sixmilebridge and arch rivals Kilmaley.
Let the games begin.