By Daragh Ó Conchúir
WHEN Karen Kielt drove a shot to the roof of the Galway net to snatch the All-Ireland Intermediate title in the dying embers of the replayed 2012 finale, the prospects for Derry Camogie could not have been better. They had already garnered Division 2 League honours and were looking forward to top-flight fare with relish.
It didn’t pan out as hoped however and after four largely forgettable seasons, they are rebuilding once more as they try to restore enthusiasm and be better prepared for another launch at elite fare.
There has been much change but Kielt is an ever-present for eight years, with the exception of last year’s Championship, despite being just 24.
A physio by trade, Kielt is as cheery a character as you could encounter, but she has been a predator on the pitch for as long as anyone can remember. Her accurate free-taking has buttressed Derry’s positive efforts over the years and remains a constant comfort this term.
With a deeper midfield role nowadays though, the goal opportunities have dried up but it is unlikely that she would ever score a more memorable major than that pile driver in Donaghmore Ashbourne.
Galway led by two points with a minute remaining and were on the attack when a stupendous Eilís Ní Chaiside block stopped them in their tracks. The Slaughtneil powerhouse gathered possession and hand-passed to Sinéad Cassidy, who after making some space, sent a perfectly-flighted delivery in front of Kielt.
The Kilrea dynamo, thinking goal as soon as she had the sliotar in her paw, rounded one defender and held off another before rifling an unstoppable shot from the angle of the parallelogram to spark delirious celebrations.
Ironically, she shouldn’t have been in that area of the pitch.
“Sinéad Cassidy and I were told to swap but I mustn’t have gotten back in time. So it was pure fluke that I was standing there. I’m not entirely sure what happened but I was supposed to be around the middle and Sinéad had gone inside. So there was a bit of a mix-up and I was just standing there. So when Sinéad sent the ball into me, it should have been the other way around.”
She laughs at the good of it but since that highlight, there has been less to smile about since. The worst?
“Two years ago we played Kilkenny in Swatragh. It was bad. Very bad. Yeah. Horrendous.”
That 8-22 to 2-10 mauling by the Cats left its mark but the mood is good now under Ciaran Cunningham. Slaughtneil winning an All-Ireland Senior Club Championship showed the younger crew throughout what was possible and now, Derry are winning outside of their province again.
“You want to be playing at Senior level but you don’t want to be beaten every time. Some of the defeats weren’t by one or two points. When you’re getting hammered, it’s quite demoralising. Personally, I’d love to be playing against the best players but it wasn’t good for the younger girls coming onto the panel and people would be wondering why would you want to, if you’re getting beaten all the time.
“This year has been good. The matches are tough and we’ve an awful lot of new players. Of the team that won the Intermediate, there’s only five or six players left on the whole panel. But it’s a good place to be. It’s more competitive for us. I’d prefer to be playing Senior but if you’re not that level you’re not that level and that’s it.”
The target is to earn their place back among the premier outfits though. The return of the Ní Chaiside sisters Aoife, Eílis and Bróna immediately after their club heroics is a considerable boost.
They lost their Littlewoods Camogie Leagues Division 2 opener to Carlow and in that context, beating Laois in the next game was vital. They took Kilkenny’s scalp too and showed when coming back from a 10-point deficit to overcome Wexford that there is no shortage of steel. They will need it tomorrow.
“Cork are unbeaten at the minute and they beat Carlow well in the semi-final. You’re judged on the Championship but it’s great to be winning matches, getting more games and be in a League Final.
“It’s very hard to judge with a second team. Cork have changed so much even from last year’s All-Ireland Final as they’re using so many players in both squads. I think they’ve averaged something close to 20 points a game, so they have the forwards that are scoring all the time but we’ll give it our best shot.”