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Sunday 20 April 2014

Harrington inspired by pride in the parish

SOMETIMES you wonder how camogie players put up with it.

Tomorrow is their day in the sun, especially for Cork who have not been in the All-Ireland senior final for two years and haven't won one for four.

Yet the GAA sees fit to hold the All-Ireland U-21 hurling final on the same day and things are even worse in Cork.

Full-forward Caoimhe Harrington and right half-back Paula O'Connor are next door neighbours and hurling buddies, always have been. Went to St Mary's Charleville, the 'Flannan's' of underage camogie which has dominated the game at colleges level, and won all around them.

Caoimhe grew up pucking ball not just with Paula next-door but with her brothers, who include twins Ben and Jerry of Cork senior fame.

Boys and girls, then young men and women together, they don't just line out for Newtownshandrum but for the Blood and Bandages, all bringing intercounty glory to their families and community.

And yet tomorrow afternoon, when Caoimhe and Paula are in Croke Park, the hurling folk of Newtownshandrum find their loyalties ridiculously divided. The Cork County Board has fixed its senior hurling final between Newtown' and Blackrock on the same day as the camogie final.

Three of the O'Connor boys are playing and two of their team-mates goalkeeper Paul Morrissey and wing-back Alan O'Brien who train the club's girls team.

On the 70th anniversary of the women's finals, you would love to hear camogie players scream and rail against such bloodymindedness but they don't. They're inured to it by now and anyway, prefer to use their energies more positively by concentrating on tomorrow's fascinating challenge against three in-a-row champions Tipperary.

Even at 22, Harrington, is the soul of diplomacy. "It's very disappointing, there are lots of people around here who'd like to go to both, especially in the O'Connor household, but what can you do?" she demurs.

Their lives are often as busy as the boys. Tomorrow she plays at full-forward in an All-Ireland. Next day she is due back in UCD to start her final year in physiotherapy. In the winters she concentrates on playing for the college but from February it's home every weekend for Saturday morning training and from June she's back permanently for the three sesssions-a-week with the county, as well as club training and matches.

Last summer though, she took a break, hit off to the States with her college friends to get a rare glimpse of normal student life before it was too late.

With the school, she won two Senior All-Ireland titles, three juniors and three 7-a-sides. She went straight onto the junior team in first-year and six years later, at just 18, was a sub in the All-Ireland senior final of '98.

Cork won that one and she was a starter in 2000 when they met most of this fantastic Tipperary team gaining momentum and who have proven unstoppable since.

Like her team-mates, she's delighted to have the inspirational Linda Mellerick back from injury on the '45' and you sense that Cork are prepared for everything Tipp can throw at them.

"You never know what's going to happen but this year we are really playing well as a unit, there's no drama queens, it's just leave the ball off and whoever is there will score or do the business, I don't care whether I score, the most important thing is that we win!"

Tipp eye fourth title

Foras Na Gaeilge All-Ireland

Senior Camogie Final

Tipperary v Cork

Croke Park, Tomorrow (4.30)

Ref: A Lawlor (Westmeath)

(Live, Network 2, 4.15)

WHEN Michael Cleary agreed to stay on as Tipperary camogie boss this year, he only did so because he truly believed his side were hungry enough to win a phenomenal fourth title in-a-row, writes Cliona Foley.

Tomorrow will test his theory and the motivation of this phenomenal team which he has shaped to bring a new dimension to the women's game since it went 15 a-side in 1999.

They are blessed with a superb half-back line of Sinead Nealon, Ciara Gaynor and Therese Brophy, which has dominated the game like the Clare's men version in 1995 and '97.

Up front they possess brilliant raiders like Claire Grogan, who has scored 2-16 in three championship games so far this year. It's also a Tipp team barely changed from that which beat Cork in a semi-final replay last year, with Angie McDermott a notable return to strengthen midfield, after a year abroad.

And it's to that game, and thoughts of revenge, which Cork manager Pat Finn will probably look for inspiration.

Cork lost Lynn Dunlea to injury for that replay and she's retired since but another inspirational figure, Linda Mellerick, returns from an injury lay-off for this huge grudge match.

She bolsters the forwards who are led by the brilliant dual star Fiona O'Driscoll, who has amassed 6-10 from three games.

Cork's defence, particularly the half-back line of Paula, Mary and Gemma O'Connor none of whom are related is also strong. Remarkable as it seems, Cork haven't won the title since 1998 and their last appearance in the final, in 2000, ended in defeat to Tipp.

The motivation would seem to be all theirs and in their three games to date they've looked more convincing, but goals win big games and this Tipp full-forward line has a knack of producing them when most needed. All-Ireland 'Number Four' would also be a perfect send-off and a deserved thank you to Cleary.

Who'll win it? Well, there hasn't been a drawn final for 21 years, but the 9-1 odds on this one finishing level are very generous indeed. Cork are also in action in the curtain-raiser when they play Kilkenny in the junior final.

TIPPERARY (v Cork) J Delaney; P Bulfin, U O'Dwyer (capt), C Madden; S Nealon, C Gaynor, T Brophy; S Kelly, A McDermott; P Fogarty, N Kennedy, J Ryan; E McDonnell, D Hughes, C Grogan.

CORK G Casey; J O'Callaghan, E Duggan, S Dunlea; P O'Connor, M O'Connor, G O'Connor; V Harris, E Burke; L Mellerick, E Dillon, J O'Leary; C O'Donoghue (Capt), C Harrington, F O'Driscoll. Subs: A Murray, R Moloney, S Hayes, O O'Sullivan, D Cronin.

CORK (Juniors v Kilkenny) E Clifford; J Brown, L Sweetman, N Bowles; C Foley, N Ahearne (Capt), M Holland; V O'Keeffe, E O'Farrell; C Desmond, C Kelly, G Collins; A Murphy, E McCarthy, M Watson. Subs: D Twomey, A O'Neill, E Foley, B Corkery, S O'Donovan. KILKENNY C Ryan; E Connery, AM Young, E Lyng; P Comerford, M Lawler, K Kinahan; E Maher, E Aylward; M Ryan, D Lanigan, J Frisby (Capt); C Doherty, A Neary, M O'Connor. Subs: A Fitzpatrick, F Dowling, U Walton, B Grennan.

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