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Sunday 24 March 2019

Martin’s aiming for glory

Camogie team 60 minutes away from All-Ireland title

Katie O’Connor (right), the St. Martin’s captain, in Croke Park with Slaughtneil’s Gráinne O’Kane
Katie O’Connor (right), the St. Martin’s captain, in Croke Park with Slaughtneil’s Gráinne O’Kane

Dean Goodison

St. Martin's will become the 26th different winner, the fourth from Wexford, if they can get the better of double defending champions Slaughtneil in the AIB All-Ireland Senior Club camogie championship final in Croke Park on Sunday (3.30 p.m.).

That's the aim, but doing it is going to be tough. However, having gone through Wexford, past the Kilkenny winners and around the Cork champions, there really isn't anything to be scared of.

It can be their time but they will need to prove it on the pitch. And they have been doing just that all season.

St. Martin's can look to their great rivals Oulart-The Ballagh for inspiration, and their exploits can actually give the Piercestown and Murrintown girls further belief. Oulart-The Ballagh are a two-time All-Ireland winner that should probably have won three times that amount.

That's not just about the talent they had, just look at their wins and it tells the story. When Oulart-The Ballagh put it together and played to their potential at this stage of the competition, they blew the opposition away.

In 2011 they won their semi-final against Loughgiel by 26 points, and their final versus Drom-Inch by 17. In 2015 they beat the same Antrim side by ten and eased past Mullagh of Galway by 15.

Why is it important? Because St. Martin's might not have the experience just yet to batter teams like Oulart-The Ballagh did, but they are following a similar path, insofar as their form is on an upward trajectory and they are playing their best camogie right now. They are peaking.

Look at their season. They moved through the group stages without being hugely impressive. Katie O'Connor talks about the first Oulart-The Ballagh game in her interview inside, about knowing how her side could really compete.

She probably knew before most of her team-mates because the real belief has come with big wins. Their semi-final success against Rathnure might have been as ugly as the game can get, but look at what it started.

It was 0-7 each at the end of normal time, with St. Martin's edging it by 0-9 to 0-8 after extra-time in Bellefield.

Oulart-The Ballagh were gutsy in the final but the county champions proved their credentials by taking their second crown in succession (1-10 to 1-6).

Thomastown made things a little easier for their Wexford opponents when Ailish Butler was sent-off after seven minutes. Still, there was a theme emerging as St. Martin's conceded just seven scores again on their way to a 2-10 to 1-6 victory.

New silverware arrived in the clubhouse in Piercestown after that Leinster final win, but the thing about provincial success is there's always a slightly sour taste if you don't push on and at least reach an All-Ireland final.

Cork side Inniscarra didn't have the firepower to push on under intense pressure and, the longer the game went on, the more it felt like St. Martin's were going to keep extending their advantage.

In the end a 0-11 to 0-5 success didn't flatter the victors in the slightest.

So if you are keeping count that's seven, seven, seven and five scores conceded in St. Martin's last four 60-minute games. Those aren't four little practice matches down some back alley, those are the biggest four games of their season.

Why wouldn't St. Martin's gain belief from that run? Having a pretty settled team helps. The same 15 has started their last three games.

Apart from the season-ending knee injury that Sarah O'Connor picked up last year, their key players have been healthy.

Obviously it's important to have your best players but there is no substitute for the comfort of continuity, Knowing who is beside you, who is behind you, knowing who is covering for you, game in, game out, has been huge for St. Martin's.

They will need to know their team-mates' jobs as well as their own when they face Slaughtneil from Derry. They beat Loughgiel by 0-11 to 0-8 in the Ulster final, their first real competitive game of the season, and then dismissed Galway's Ardrahan by 0-8 to 0-4 in the All-Ireland semi.

The champs are blessed defensively with the Ní Chasaide sisters. Brona was on the field when Derry drew with the Wexford Intermediates in 2017, while both Aoife and Eilis have ample inter-county experience.

Reports suggest they tend to operate with the industrious Louise Dougan as a sweeper, but they also have bucket-loads of experience and some weapons that can harm any side in the attacking portion of the field.

Teresa Mellon is an experienced operator who also played in that Intermediate game two seasons ago.

Shannon Graham of Antrim is no stranger to facing Wexford either, while Offaly sharpshooter Tina Hannon is free-taker and probably the best known of their attacking options.

Will St. Martin's do it? Time will tell, they will be bookies' underdogs against the two-time champions but that will mean nothing for those 60 minutes.

If they defend like they have to date and continue on their upward curve they will win this game, potentially by more than one score.

Likely St. Martin's line-up: Mags D'Arcy; Aisling O'Connor, Noeleen Lambert, Marie Claire Morrissey; Áine Ennis, Katie O'Connor (capt.), Mary Barrett; Ciara O'Connor, Ella O'Connor; Amy Cardiff, Linda Bolger, Chloe Foxe; Lettie Whelan, Anna Hennessy, Emma Codd.

Enniscorthy Guardian

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