TG4 All-Ireland Junior Ladies Football Championship semi-final
Antrim v Wicklow (Sunday, 1pm, Ashbourne, live on LGFA Facebook)
ANTRIM Ladies bid for a place in the All-Ireland Junior Championship final for the first time since 2016 when they take on Wicklow in Ashbourne on Sunday.
The Saffrons last clinched the All-Ireland crown back in 2012, three years on from their maiden title while they lost out to Longford at Croke Park in 2016.
This season has been altogether different as the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the postponement of the All-Ireland series.
Now, in the middle of November, Antrim are just one win away from securing a place in the Junior decider following their 2-11 to 1-7 win over Ulster rivals Derry in Augher earlier this month.
Manager Dee McConville feels the addition of a number of seasoned players to the panel following lockdown has helped the Saffrons become more competitive following a lacklustre league campaign.
“It has been difficult enough for us. At the start of the year, we didn’t get off to the best of starts with the league,” said McConville.
“The six-month break gave the girls a chance to refocus and there were a few girls who weren’t available to us in the league that came back on board for the start of the Championship.
“Maybe it started off as an opportunity to keep themselves ticking over but it has progressed to a structure where the girls are glad to be on board and we’ve gotten some good feedback from the players.
“Saoirse Tennyson missed the end of the club Championship with St Paul’s last year and is back, Ciara Brown and Meabh McCurdy are also back for us.
“A few other girls from other clubs also made themselves available. It would have been nice if we had everyone available at the start of the year and we could have had a better structure in place, but we just haven’t had that time.”
McConville revealed that the Ulster Club series also affected preparations, but hailed St Paul’s for their impressive Senior Championship victory over Armagh Harps last month.
“St Paul’s (Senior) and Moneyglass (Intermediate) were also involved in the Ulster Club Championship there so we didn’t get all the girls back together until the start of October,” added McConville.
“It hasn’t been ideal, but I think every county will have had issues this year so can’t complain.
“It was great for Antrim football to see St Paul’s win that game. I’m not sure how they were expected to go against Armagh Harps because they hadn’t played much football. It was a big win for them to beat the Armagh champions, but you can never write St Paul’s off. They were due to play Donaghmoyne in the Ulster semi-final before everything was pulled.”
Antrim perhaps showed signs of rustiness in their Group B Championship opener as they suffered a 2-8 to 1-5 defeat to Limerick in Clane, Co Kildare.
Their second game against Derry was essentially an All-Ireland quarter-final clash and Antrim got off to the worst possible start when Ciara McGurk plundered a goal inside the opening minute for the Oak Leafers.
A goal from McCurdy helped Antrim take a one-point lead into the break while Cathy Carey’s fortuitous second half major saw Antrim claim a 2-11 to 1-7 win in Augher.
While McConville was happy with the improvement shown against Derry, he feels more will be needed against a highly-rated Wicklow side this weekend.
“In the first game against Limerick, we had only had the girls together for two or three weeks beforehand,” reflected McConville.
“I don’t think we performed particularly well as a team, although some girls stood out. I felt if more girls had have stood up, we could have had a different result.
“We knew if we put things right, we could do well against Derry. Having said that, we didn’t get off to a good start against Derry.
“We managed to turn things around and we played some very good football to progress.
“Wicklow are a very good team – they’ve been playing Intermediate football for the last number of years since they won the Junior title in 2011.
“They played in Division Three this year and only lost one game out of five – they’ve got to be red-hot favourites. We’ve done our homework on them and we think we know how to set-up against them. We’ll go out and give it everything on the day and see where it takes us.”