The increasing depth in camogie will be showcased during the summer when the All-Ireland championships get under way.
Last year’s triple-header of All-Ireland finals at Croke Park was a massive success, with the attendance of 17,290 exceeding expectations and six teams at senior, intermediate and premier junior level getting to play at the spiritual home of Gaelic games.
Such development is of incalculable promotional value to camogie and with development squads springing up around the country as county boards begin to tap in to the increasing interest, there are bound to be new contenders for honours in the coming years.
It will be a little while before we see that at senior level but having said that, Offaly and Clare are already capable of causing upsets and seem certain to be powerful forces fairly soon.
Clare put it up to a number of teams in last year’s championship and while the league has been more difficult, there are players to return and in Claire McMahon and Chloe Morey, they have individuals who would grace any team.
They might be an outside bet but perhaps the outfit most likely to break into the top four is Offaly. Having been beaten by a late goal by Clare in the 2008 All-Ireland junior final, they returned to make amends the following season and then annexed the intermediate crown last year.
Their belief is sky high and early indications are that they are not overawed by mixing it with the cream of the crop. Joachim Kelly is a very astute manager and with a Division 1 campaign behind them, you’d back them to ruffle a few feathers.
Tipperary reached the league semi-final and new boss John Lillis has brought a number of young players through, including the exciting Sarah Fryday. The remain naive in their defending at times but, with the likes of Jill Horan and Claire Grogan providing the experience, they should be stronger than last year.
Cork also have a new manager in Joe O’Brien. With Mary O’Connor, RachelMoloney and Joanne O’Callaghan retired, around half the team that won the All-Ireland in 2009 are unavailable. Briege Corkery has returned from her travels, though, and she is likely to introduce a dynamism that was missing last year.
With Gemma O’Connor and Rena Buckley continuing to lead the way and young players such as Joanne Casey likely to improve, you know that Cork will be there or thereabouts. Ann Downey is working away at Kilkenny.
No-one is more determined than the manager for a Noreside captain to bridge the 17-year gap since she last collected the O’Duffy Cup.
Getting to the final two years ago with a young team was seen as a significant achievement and while the occasion might have gotten the better of them, one felt that 2010 might be their year. They have gotten to a league final and semi-final since, and an All-Ireland semi-final, and with the youth gaining experience and the likes of Anne Dalton, Lizzie Lyng, Michelle Quilty and Aoife Neary providing proven know-how, they are definite contenders.
Galway were left shattered by last year’s non-performance at Croke Park and a 13th All-Ireland defeat out of 14 appearances, but Killimor’s All-Ireland club success is a massive boost and Brenda Hanney and Ann-Marie Hayes are playing well. Veronica Curtin and Therese Maher provide a wealth of experience and remain among the best players, while youngsters like Noreen Coen and Niamh McGrath have exciting futures.
They had a real chance of winning the league final but couldn’t finish the job against a Wexford unit that found a way to win, even though they stuttered for 15 minutes in the second half.
JJ Doyle’s crew did the Double last year, proving that the 2007 All-Ireland was no fluke. They retained the league title despite not being at their best and have developed a winning habit.
The dangerous Katrina Parrock is still improving while Catherine O’Loughlin, Mags D’Arcy, the Leacy sisters Mary and Una, Kate Kelly and team captain Ursula Jacob provide power, pace and oceans of nous.
Wexford remain the standard-bearers, with a tight defence and a goal-hungry attack. They are still the team to beat and it will take an excellent performance to deny them the double Double.