SUNDAY: Littlewood's National League: Offaly v Cork, St Brendan’s Park, Birr, 3pm.
CORK travel to Birr on Sunday to face Offaly in round two of the Littlewoods Ireland National League.
With a win over Waterford last Saturday and Offaly losing to Clare in Birr, 2-7 to 1-3, Cork will be favourites, despite again fielding a number of new panellists.
Cork will be happy with the return they got against Waterford, given that they had new or less-experienced players, such as Amy Lee, Saoirse McCarthy, Cliona Healy, Laura Hayes and Lauren Homan, along with substitutes Aoife O’Neill, Siobhan Hutchinson, Hannah O’Leary, Emma Murphy, and Isobel O’Regan.
Cork manager, Paudie Murray, may well give last week’s substitutes a start, or at least more of a run-out, against Offaly.
All players can be comfortable with their performance, and the subs were not on long enough to really get into the game, but that could change this week.
I thought Offaly would do better against Clare, particularly at home.
This time last year, with home advantage, Clare won by two points. So, for Offaly to lose by seven points at home is a poor outcome, and it looks like the energy they had a few seasons ago has left them.
When The Banner conceded a goal to Mairéad Teehan, Eimear Kelly responded with one of her own. Points from Robyn Conway and Kelly made it 1-5 to 1-3 at the change of ends.
An Áine O’Loughlin goal was the key moment of the second-half and Kelly added another brace to seal a win for Ger O’Connell’s team.
Despite such new faces on the field, Cork maintain a spine of seasoned campaigners: Chloe Sigerson, Orla Cronin, Laura Treacy, Leanne O’Sullivan, Hannah Looney, Libby Coppinger, Amy O’Connor, Linda Collins, and Ashling Thompson, who made a strong comeback against Waterford, after withdrawing from the panel in 2019.
You would expect Cork to win.
There were 34 frees in Cork’s game against Waterford, many of them soft, adding argument to the fact that the new ‘contact’ rule still leaves too much to the discretion of the referee.
In other first-round games, Tipperary held out for a one-point win over Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds. There was confusion afterwards, with supporters and reporters of the view that Tipperary had won the game by a point.
However, the referee had the game as a draw, 1-7 to 0-10. After reviewing, the official match result was indeed 1-6 to 0-10, resulting in a one-point win for Tipp.
Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I wonder if that error had anything to do with the new rules and the additional pressure on referees, particularly with the fast puck-out.
Tipperary went in at the break level, 0-06 to 1-03, despite playing with the wind. Joint captain, Cáit Devane, was in top form, contributing five points, three of them from play.
Nicole Walsh hit the sixth for Tipp, but a Rebecca Delee goal and three points from the other joint skipper, Caoimhe Costelloe, put the Shannonsiders in a strong position.
In a low-scoring second-half, Limerick couldn’t build on that good opening, although they did take the lead, thanks to points from Niamh Curtin and Costelloe, her fifth. But Devane levelled from a free to bring her tally to six, before Ciardha Maher shot what was to be the winning score.
It wasn’t pretty for Galway in the other Group 2 tie, but they got the defence of their league title off to a winning start, 0-7 to 0-10, at TU Blanchardstown.
The All-Ireland champions looked rusty, but credit must go to a Dublin side that was starting its season under new managers, John Treacy and Willie Braine, and without a number of key players.
The hosts got to within one point of Galway twice in the second period, but the league and All-Ireland champions put a little daylight between the sides.