The chase of the O’Duffy Cup begins

A LOT of talk in the sporting world at present is about Euro 2012, while the hurling championship this weekend will see Kilkenny begin the defence of the Leinster and All-Ireland titles.

A LOT of talk in the sporting world at present is about Euro 2012, while the hurling championship this weekend will see Kilkenny begin the defence of the Leinster and All-Ireland titles.

Meanwhile, the All-Ireland senior camogie championship gets underway this weekend. Kilkenny face a potential banana skin, travelling to Crumlin to play Dublin.

It’s the second time in 2012 that Brendan Williams charges have travelled to the capital. Their previous on Easter Sunday ended in a lucky escape in the League. Kilkenny were in cruise control after 20 minutes, as goals from Aoife Neary and Siobhan Holland helped built up a 2-5 to 0-1 lead.

Dublin stormed back and goals either side of half-time brought them back to within a point of Kilkenny. The visitors hung on and pointed frees from Aoife Neary steadied the ship and they won 2-9 to 2-8 to go through to the semi. The losers hit 13 wides.

Twice in recent times Kilkenny have dished out 32-point hammerings to the Dubs. The blues have shown substantial improvement, and are a competitive outfit.

Strengthened

Kilkenny have been strengthened by the return of Aine Fahey after her travels, and with last year’s nominee Michelle Quilty returning following an injury-hit league campaign, their options in attack have increased greatly. Certainly, their attack needs to improve significantly if they are to end the 18 year All-Ireland famine stretching back to 1994.

Out of their combined score of 2-48 from the five matches in the league, only 2-11 from play was scored from the forwards. Also, Aoife Neary has registered the vast majority of Kilkenny’s scores, with 0-30 generally from frees which accounts for 62% of the combined tally.

Definitely a worrying sign!

On the plus side, Katie Power is fully fit after missing last year’s championship with a knee injury. The Piltown prodigy is a real threat near goal.

Nine of the Kilkenny panel involved since the start of the league have made their senior debuts, and overall the newcomers have acquitted themselves really well.

Mairead Power was a star performer, while Orlaith Walsh improved with each game and was a revelation in the league semi-final. Caoimhe Shiel at corner-back has been performing solidly also, while 17-year-old Miriam Walsh made her senior debut in the semi-final and performed really well on a wet day.

The Tullaroan youngster is a superb player who is very versatile, and may very well be the joker in the Kilkenny pack.

Obviously, the experience of goalkeeper Catriona Ryan, full-back Catherine Doherty, along with Jacqui Frisby, Elaine Aylward and Aoife Neary will be essential if the O’Duffy Cup is to return to the Marble City. The quintet have been around for several years. Their leadership abilities are needed to inspire the youngersters.

Championship format

The championship format is played similar to the league, with two groups together of four teams playing the opposition from the other group. Kilkenny begin the championship on Saturday away to Dublin, before playing home matches against Galway on June 30 and Tipperary on July 7.

They conclude with a trip to Cork on Saturday, July 14.

The intermediates begin their championship on Saturday, June 30 against Galway, before playing Tipperary at home seven days later. They also travelling to Cork on July 14.

Mattie Butler’s charges will conclude their group phase with a trip to All-Ireland champions, Wexford on July 22.

The seniors are grouped with Wexford, Clare and Offaly. If they can come out on top of that group they will qualify for the All-Ireland semi-final on August 18.

A second place finish will qualify them for an All-Ireland quarter-final, while third and fourth place finishers play each another in the first round. Victory is essential on Saturday if they are to emerge as championship contenders.

The under-16 team

Meanwhile, the under-16 girls also begin their All-Ireland championship campaign this weekend. They travel to The Ragg. This is a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final in which Kilkenny were heartbreakingly denied by a solitary point, 2-8 to 0-13.

Nine of last year’s panel are involved again, including Aine Gannon, Mary O’Connell and Michaela Kenneally, who all played in the final.

This year’s panel should be backboned by players from the Loreto and Presentation. The schools faced each other in the All-Ireland junior final.

This championship is run at a later date this year from the past three years, as it reverts back to its previous date of playing the All-Ireland final on the August Bank Holiday weekend. Kilkenny are in a difficult group.

Following the Tipperary clash, Kilkenny are at home to Cork on July 1, before travelling to Limerick seven days later. Kilkenny need to finish in the top two to secure an All-Ireland semi-final berth on July 22, before the All-Ireland final gets played on Sunday, August 5.

First game

The one concern for Kilkenny is that this is their first competitive game as a group, and also in recent weeks, training was bound to have been disrupted with students sitting their Junior Cert exams.

Tipperary have had competitive action, playing in the Munster championship where they defeated one of Kilkenny’s opponents, Limerick by 2-7 to 0-8 in the semi-final.

On Thursday, June 28 a fund-raising table quiz in aid of the Kilkenny camogie teams will be held in the Springhill Court Hotel. Join the battle for Kilkenny’s cleverest club, where there is €500 of O’Neills Sports gear to be won.

The questions will be flying from 8pm. The cost is €30 for teams of four. For further information contact County Camogie Board treasurer, Pearl McDonald (087 6923811). MC will be George Chandler.