League champions Galway and the 2021 All-Ireland intermediate champions Antrim booked their places in the knockout stages of the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship thanks to their victories over Offaly and Clare respectively.
Róisín McCormick was in stellar form, scoring a goal and ten points as Antrim made it two wins from two at the end of a rip-roaring encounter against an Offaly team that bounced back well from a 20-point defeat to Waterford in their initial Group 3 tie but still fell to a 3-16 to 1-12 reverse in Portglenone.
Noelle Kennedy’s gang sprinted into an early lead, scores from Sarah Harding, Siobhán Flannery and Orlagh Phelan establishing an early three-point advantage.
Not for the first time in her nascent but brilliant career, it was McCormick who jolted Antrim from their early torpor, bringing them level with three points on the trot before sending Áine Magill through for an easy goal opportunity that a poacher of the calibre of the young Dunloy ace was never going to pass up.
The deadly duo provided the next three points between them but Offaly displayed their renowned spirit and bounced back to be level once more. Becky Bryant and Labhaoise Glynn drawing them to within a goal before that deficit was wiped out by Glynn after 22 minutes.
But in a half characterised by periods of ascendancy for both teams, it was Antrim that finished the period the strongest. Caitrin Dobbin raised a green flag with an exquisite ground strike and McCormick rifled two more points to send Elaine Dowds’ side in at the break leading by 2-10 to 1-7.
Bryant delivered some nice points for Offaly but they had no answer to the genius of McCormick, whose composure and skill in taking one touch to control Dobbin’s delivery on the stick before a second drove a rasper to billow the net was wonderful to behold. There was no way back for Offaly from that but they will go into the last group game against Limerick emboldened by this display.
Galway maintained their 100 per cent record also, inflicting a first defeat on Clare in the process but their neighbours provided a stiff test and the Maroons were happy to escape from Cusack Park with a 1-13 to 0-13 triumph.
That Cathal Murray’s squad had seven individual contributors was a positive but they struggled to break down a well-drilled Clare team that had taken their scalp in the League at the beginning of the season.
The teams were deadlocked at 0-6 apiece at the break, Carrie Dolan and Niamh McPeake for Galway, and Lorna McNamara for Clare the primary scorers but it was Siobhán McGrath’s goal with just over a minute of the second half gone that proved the difference.
Points from McNamara and Orlaith Duggan brought Clare within two but that was as close as they got, as Galway just about managed to keep them at arm’s length.
In the other Group 1 game, Cork overcame a stern first-half challenge from Down to get their campaign back on track at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Two goals in three minutes at the end of the half helped them go in leading by seven at half-time and they went on to record an ultimately comfortable triumph by 3-19 to 1-10.
Down more than held their own and when Niamh Mallon’s free from just inside the Cork half rebounded off the crossbar, Olivia Doyle had the resourcefulness to kick an unstoppable shot off the sod in the 18th minute.
That put the visitors a goal ahead but less than five minutes later, the Rebels had inched in front as Katrina Mackey drilled to the net from point-blank range after Fiona Keating had drawn the defensive cover with a trademark run down the middle.
Further goals from official player of the match Amy O’Connor in the 30th minute, when she accelerated clear of three defenders after taking a pass from former Down star Sorcha McCartan, and another from Mackey three minutes later following a deft pick-up and scuffed shot, made it 3-6 to 1-5 at the change of ends.
Those closing minutes that yielded 2-2 proved pivotal, as Cork were content to just keep the scoreboard ticking over after the resumption, and after Mallon registered her eighth point in the 53rd minute, the Leesiders registered the last six points, including a brace from Ali Smith, who finished with three, and a neat finish by O’Connor, who recorded a six-point tally.
The Mournewomen must now play Galway and another defeat will consign them to the relegation play-off series, with victory ensuring the westerners top the table.
Meanwhile, Cork will square off against Clare with second qualifying position up for grabs.