CORK, Galway, Kilkenny, and Tipperary, as expected, all came through their opening championship fixtures last weekend. Wexford beat Limerick.
It wasn’t a surprise, but it does reflect poorly on Limerick and will put a bounce in the step of Wexford that they opened their campaign with a win. Waterford overcame debutants Down by just a point. It was Down that led by four points with seven minutes remaining only for it to slip from their grasp. A pointed free in the sixth minute of injury time by Beth Carton rescued a 0-16 to 0-15 victory for Waterford at Walsh Park.
A hat-trick of goals from Orla O’Dwyer, who finished with 3-3, was the highlight in Group 1 as Tipperary put the bitter disappointment of letting a gilt-edged winning opportunity slip against Kilkenny in their league semi-final firmly behind them.
That performance might have emboldened their belief. With Cáit Devane recording nine points, it was evident that Offaly had no answer for the firepower of Bill Mullaney’s side, and to the speed and movement of O’Dwyer, who was starting in national competition for the first time since returning from Australia’s AFLW.
O’Dwyer struck first after just three minutes and was among seven different players to raise white flags as Tipp went in at half-time leading by 1-14 to 0-6, former Tipp senior forward and All-Ireland underage winner in the blue and gold, Mairéad Teehan striking five points of her 1-7 for Offaly.
Aisling Brennan and Siobhán Flannery shot early points for Susan Earner’s outfit but two goals in a minute by O’Dwyer towards the end of the third quarter cemented the issue for Tipperary. Teehan raised a green flag in injury time against many of her former teammates.
A 67th minute goal from a penalty by Chloe Foxe gave Wexford a dramatic and hugely significant 2-12 to 1-13 win over Limerick in Newcastle West. A Caoimhe Lyons goal edged the home team ahead at the break, 1-5 to 0-6, and they still held a marginal advantage until Foxe shook the net deep in stoppage time.
In Group 3, All-Ireland and League champions Kilkenny were made to sweat by Clare, who paid no heed to reputations, before eventually having to give way by 0-22 to 0-16 at Sixmilebridge.
Chloe Morey knows every blade of grass around the ‘Bridge and it showed as she racked up 11 points for the hosts. Reigning player of the year Denise Gaule weighed in with ten for the Noresiders however, and had a superior supporting cast, Katie Nolan hitting three early points and finishing with four, Katie Power offering evidence of her enduring class after a horrific run of injury with a brace.
The foundation for the triumph was laid in the opening quarter, at the end of which they led by the final margin, 0-8 to 0-2, as Gaule converted a free. Clare outscored their opponents in the remaining period to half-time, five points from Morey making it 12-8 at the interval.
That was as close as Ger O’Connell’s crew got though, Gaule, Power and Mary O’Connell finding the target to open a nine-point lead. Clare finished well, Morey and Becky Foley raising white flags, but Brian Dowling’s side had the damage done by then.
Elsewhere in the group, last year’s beaten finalists and recent league runners-up Galway cantered to a 3-16 to 1-5 victory over Westmeath at Kenny Park. Cathal Murray made several changes with some stellar names on the bench including Niamh Kilkenny and Sarah Dervan, but Westmeath are in a rebuilding phase under new boss Darren McCormack, the legendary Pamela Greville having retired along with former captain Mairéad McCormack and Denise McGrath.
The visitors held their own early on and trailed by just three points after ten minutes, Carrie Dolan slotting a pair of frees and Catherine Finnerty also hitting the target.
When Aoife Donohue goaled just before the water break however, it sparked a flurry of scores upon the resumption, Ailish O’Reilly, Dolan, the industrious Niamh McGrath, and her sister Siobhán all splitting the posts before Donohue grabbed her second major. Hannah Core and Megan Dowdall were on target for Westmeath, but they trailed by 2-8 to 0-3 at the interval.
The way they contested the early part of the second half demonstrated a cause for optimism as Core goaled and the Lakesiders also had a penalty saved.
But Galway have an array of firepower and with more gaps appearing as the opposition tired under the draining sun, Noreen Coen nabbed a third goal.