SUNDAY: Littlewoods Ireland National League: Cork v Tipperary, The Ragg, 2pm
THE 2019 camogie season gets underway this weekend with the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues Division 1 throw-in. The live-streaming of a minimum of six games over the course of the national league will publicise the game, with the final down for March 24.
The champions, Kilkenny, have home advantage to Clare, as they begin to defend their title and aim for four-in-a-row.
Meanwhile, current All-Ireland champions, Cork, will travel to Tipperary in the first clash to be live-streamed by Littlewoods Ireland on their social channels. Fans can tune in live from 1.45pm on January 20, across YouTube and Facebook, for pitch-side reporting from Lauren Guilfoyle and commentary from Killian Whelan and local analysts.
Twelve months ago, severe weather affected both training and fixtures. This year, there have been no such problems, with fields in good nick and grass growth strong. Hopefully, that will continue and the fixtures schedule will not be interrupted.
Paudie Murray remains at the helm in Cork. That was expected. He was never going to walk away with three-in-a-row a prospect. Ann Downey feels she has unfinished business, having lost the last two All-Ireland finals by a single point. But unless Kilkenny change their defensive approach to games, she’ll more than likely suffer a third defeat in 2019.
Thank God for Cork and Kilkenny. They are the only two teams that generate any tension and excitement in camogie, and that’s because of the rivalry between them, not the hurling. As we start the 2019 season, we’re all hoping for better entertainment than in previous years.
Camogie needs more counties to raise the bar and give Cork and Kilkenny a run. With a blended team on Sunday, we should be expecting Tipperary to perhaps defeat Cork in the Ragg, but even with weakened sides, Cork remained undefeated in their group in 2018.
Stronger competition nationally and a freer-flowing game are both required to bring a wider audience to our game. We harp on so much about its stop/start nature that it’s almost embarrassing.
Marketing can promote how great our game is and the growth we are witnessing, but much of the publicity is false. It’s a case of ‘say it enough times and people might believe it’.
The fitness level of the girls at senior inter-county level has improved massively in the past decade — for some counties, anyway — yet the game has more stoppages now than it did 25 years ago. I meet lifelong camogie followers who have no interest in going to inter-county games; they find them boring.
Add in the fact that many teams, primarily Kilkenny, now play defensively and fans and players are getting less and less buzz from the games. The All Ireland final result in 2017 was ten points to nine; in 2018 it was 0-14 to 0-13 (15 points from frees). Back in 1992, we had 12-a-side games with narrower goalposts and low uprights. That made scoring from distance difficult, but the score was Cork 1-20, Wexford 2-6.
In 2002, it was Cork 4-9, Tipperary 1-9. In 2012, the result was Wexford 3-13, Cork 3-6. Where have the goals gone? There is nothing like the buzz supporters get from a net-rattling in an All-Ireland final.
Amy O’Connor gave a great interview during the week. She stated that camogie has become “‘boring to play and boring to watch”. When a player says that the games are getting boring to play in, we really do have a serious problem.
Cork have two challenge games behind them, against Limerick and Offaly, and again new players are being tested. Niamh McCarthy won’t be available for Cork until Inniscarra finish their All-Ireland bid, which may take them all the way to the final in March.
Siobhan Hutchinson, Cliona Healy, and Laura Hayes are three additional players that Cork manager, Paudie Murray, is looking at blending in during the league. Katrina Mackey is out for Sunday with a back injury, but these aren’t issues during the league, as seasoned players give way for younger players to gain experience. There are no retirements from the team, which took back-to-back All-Ireland titles in 2018.
Group 1: Clare, Dublin, Kilkenny, Limerick, Offaly.
Group 2: Cork, Galway, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford FIXTURES:
January 20: Kilkenny v Clare, Offaly v Limerick, Tipperary v Cork, Wexford v Waterford.
January 26: Clare v Offaly, Kilkenny v Dublin, Cork v Wexford, Tipperary v Galway.
February 2: Limerick v Clare.
February 3: Dublin v Offaly, Cork v Waterford, Galway v Wexford.
February 17: Dublin v Limerick, Offaly v Kilkenny, Waterford v Galway, Wexford v Tipperary.
February 24: Clare v Dublin, Limerick v Kilkenny, Galway v Cork, Waterford v Tipperary.
March 10: Semi-finals.
March 24: Final.