*Niamh O’Dea. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
Embroiled in a Group of Death for camogie and a welcome Group of Life for ladies football, there’s no room for error on either front for Niamh O’Dea and Co. this weekend.
Contrasting expectations stem from the fact that Clare are pooled with perennial favourites Kilkenny and Galway for two All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship knock-out spots while on the flip side the Banner are the seeded team at the group stages of the All-Ireland Intermediate Ladies Football Championship.
It essentially means that Ger O’Connell’s side must go scalp hunting against All-Ireland Senior Camogie champions Kilkenny on home soil on Saturday and then scalp dodging in Ballinasloe on Sunday against a Leitrim side that managed to finally end a four year barren ladies football championship run last weekend.
However, it’s an all too familiar hectic dual mandate that Niamh O’Dea and Siofra Ní Chonaill simply take in their stride.“We’re used to that at this stage now.” Admits the talismanic O’Dea who has been previously nominated for an All-Star in both codes. Evan [Talty] and Ger [O’Connell] have been very good to us, they have schedules made out to make sure that we are not overloaded so it’s just about getting on with it now. Both teams have big ambitions this year so it’s just about doing what we can to contribute best to both panels.
2020 was the first time in 12 seasons that Clare contested the business end of the All-Ireland Championship in both codes, with the ladies footballers only one step away from getting back to Croke Park after reaching the All-Ireland Intermediate Semi-Finals, only to be humbled by eventual champions Meath by 21 points.
“Especially with the way last year panned out, I think everyone has a point to prove this year so hopefully it’s going to be a big year for us. There are very few of us left from 2016 when we last played in the All-Ireland Final so it means that there’s no real hangovers there as this is essentially a new group. Last year really gave everyone a taste of how far we can go and what this group is capable of achieving so there has been a big effort put in and a big push to hopefully go one better.”
However, despite being raging hot favourites to top their group that involves Leitrim and Fermanagh, O’Dea is experienced enough not to build any castles in the sky when it comes to championship ambitions. “The Intermediate championship is one of the hardest to win but I think we’re in a good position. There’s a good panel there, a good ethos and a great atmosphere around training. The lads have put in a lot of work and everything has gone well in terms of preparations so it’s just down to us to perform on the pitch and take what we’ve learned into match day.
“We wouldn’t all be here if we didn’t think we had a chance and everything has been geared towards helping us play to our potential. And if that happens, who knows what the summer will bring”.