Summer series starts with cracker

The football championship tends to be a slow burner while the hurling equivalent enjoys a low-key start with the preliminary rounds in Leinster, but camogie’s summer series will burst out of the traps today when Cork and Galway renew acquaintances in Tullamore.

Summer series starts with cracker

Opening the bill for the Leinster hurling semi-final between Galway and Laois, the camogie clash will bring together the last two All-Ireland champions who last met in a league final just a short few months ago in which the Connacht side just about edged.

“It’s a fantastic way to kick off the championship,” says Galway captain Sarah Dervan. “There will be no learning curves. It’s great to have it down in Tullamore before the hurlers and hopefully we can take the confidence from the league and kick on into the championship.”

Inviting though it is, this is not a game that will dictate a summer.

Cork began their All-Ireland campaign 12 months ago with a bruising defeat to Wexford and still ended the campaign with a first title in five years after a three-point decider defeat of Kilkenny thanks to a group structure designed to keep teams interested for longer.

Group A this year contains Wexford as well as Cork, Offaly and newly-promoted Limerick and, with three counties progressing to the knock-out stages, there will be considerable water under the bridge before the script begins to emerge with any certainty.

A number of characters are already conspicuous by their absence.

Anna Geary, Cork captain last year but since retired, set the scene on The Sunday Game recently when she listed a spate of players from the main counties who would not be gracing the fields this time for one reason or another.

Galway are no different, but it may be that they find the absentees easier to deal with this time than was the case a year ago when one of the county’s longest-serving and most inspirational GAA players called time on a career crowned with a first All-Ireland.

“The retirement of Therese Maher was a huge blow,” Dervan confirms. “We expected it, but you can’t replace anything of her calibre so quickly. Things just didn’t go our way last year, that’s the only way I can put it. We tried our way and it didn’t happen. It’s harder to retain it.”

Cork are about to discover how true that is.

The Rebelettes approach the defence of their title minus nine of the panel that earned the O’Duffy Cup last year. Among those missing are Joanne O’Callaghan and Jennifer O’Leary as well as Geary, although current captain Ashling Thompson detects buds of promise amid those losses.

“It’s a huge disappointment in a way, but then again spirits have been really high in the camp because the new leaders now would be young so we all really click. We all get on really well together and we still have the likes of Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley and Orla Cotter.

“Aoife Murray as well. It’s a big change, so it’s a good change in a way too in that girls can get that sense of leadership into themselves as well. It doesn’t quite add as much pressure as being All-Ireland champions either because they haven’t really experienced that just yet.”

Well though these teams know each other, there is an element of the unknown about it given seven weeks have passed since that league final. Cork have passed the time beating Clare and Tipperary to claim a Munster title, Galway have had to make do with club games and challenges.

Tony Ward’s Galway side led that league decider by eleven points at the interval only for the Munster side to reel them back in to within three points thanks to the introduction of a handful of regulars who began the afternoon stationed on the sidelines.

“I suppose you could take a lot of negativity and positivity from the league final,” says Thompson. “We had a shocking first-half, but then picked it up in the second half and I reckon if we had five more minutes on the clock we could have gone for the draw.

“We’ve trained ferociously hard since the league final, but I think there’s a lot more in us. It’s going to be a massive test going into the Galway game, but it’s a good one to start the competition off with.”

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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