By Daragh Ó Conchúir
LIMERICK secured the result of the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues so far when going on the road and inflicting a first defeat of the campaign on champions Kilkenny in Division 1's Group 2 in Dunmore.
The Shannonsiders' 1-14 to 1-9 win keeps their hopes of making the last four alive but they are locked in a battle with Clare and Waterford, who they play next weekend, for what is likely to be the second qualification berth, as Kilkenny look assured of top spot with their remaining tie against a Meath team that has yet to register a point.
Limerick were on top for most of the game in Dunmore thanks to the enduring accuracy of Niamh Mulcahy, who finished with nine points, including seven from frees. Team captain Sarah Carey led from the front with some sterling defensive work as well as two points.
It was 0-9 to 0-7 at half time to the visitors. The teams swapped points early in the second half before John Tuohy's side found another gear and struck four points in succession to open up a six-point gap.
Kilkenny have developed significant intestinal fortitude under Ann Downey in recent years and they displayed that trait once more, with a point and then a goal in the 29th minute from an Anne Dalton free (she finished with 1-4, three points of which came from play) to reduce the margin to two.
Limerick refused to be denied on this occasion however, and the Munster champions removed all doubt thanks to Caoimhe Lyons' goal.
Waterford are enjoying their best top-tier season and they were impressive in dispensing with Dublin by 1-14 to 1-7 in Carriganore. It was a momentous occasion for former Déise forward Zoe O'Donoghue, and the full-forward got off to the perfect start with a third minute goal that gave the Sky Blues the lead.
Waterford remained unflustered and got a foothold in the game via Beth Carton, who accumulated a personal tally of 1-9. They edged ahead by 0-7 to 1-2 and though Dublin did well not to let the hosts get away from them, with Siobhán Kehoe keeping them in contention, Carton brought her tally to seven and ensured that the home team had their noses in front at the interval, 0-9 to 1-5.
It got even better for Donal O'Rourke's outfit when Carton goaled and they never looked back, restricting Dublin to just two points while stretching clear.
Eight points from Chloe Morey propelled Clare to a 0-12 to 0-1 triumph over Meath in Ogonnelloe. This puts them level with Limerick and Waterford on seven points, but in fourth on score difference, while also consigning the Royals to a relegation play-off against the bottom side in Group 1 - most likely Offaly, though it could be Tipperary if the Faithful women achieved the unlikely feat of defeating Cork by 15 points next week.
Morey had five points in the first half, four from frees, and supplemented by points from Niamh O'Dea and Orla Devitt to make it 0-7 to 0-0 at half time, with the defensive unit magnificent in that opening period. Meath finally got off the mark very early in the second half via an Amy Gaffney free but Clare were too strong.
In Group 1, Cork beat Tipperary by 3-15 to 0-13 in a cracker. A first-half goal from Linda Collins helped Cork into a 1-10 to 0-8 lead at the change of ends. Tipp remained in contention as Cáit Devane brought her tally to 11 points, 10 of which came from placed balls, but Cork had a greater spread of scorers and goals in the final quarter from Amy O'Connor and Lauren Homan cemented the Rebels' position at the top of the table.
Galway will play Wexford in a winner-takes-al battle next weekend after their 3-11 to 0-11 success over Offaly at Pearse Stadium.
The visitors took an early lead with two pointed frees by Patrice Delaney but Niamh Hannify sent Galway on their way with a 10th minute goal. She hit the crossbar soon after and also scored a point but grabbed her second major on 19 minutes after her Oranmore-Maree clubmate Ailish O'Reilly had laid the groundwork.
Hannify returned the favour to O'Reilly four minutes before the interval and at 3-4 to 0-6, it was a long road back for Offaly. They tried hard, with Delaney and Michaela Morkan pointing from frees but with skipper Sarah Dervan immense at full-back and Rebecca Hennelly bringing her tally to seven points, the verdict was never in question.