Ulster LGFA Intermediate final
Antrim v Tyrone (Owenbeg, Sunday, 1.30pm)
GROWING used to finals is no bad thing and Antrim’s ladies are gearing up for another this Sunday in Owenbeg when they face Tyrone in the Ulster Intermediate decider.

The sides met in the group stage just a fortnight ago with the Red Hands inflating a first defeat of 2023 on Emma Kelly’s charges when they came out 2-15 to 4-7 winners at Davitt Park.

However, both sides were already assured of their place in the final having already defeated Monaghan and while it wasn’t a case of going through the motions, it is anticipated this weekend’s provincial final will see both at full throttle.

It must be remembered, however, that Antrim are now operating at a much higher level than they have in some time as they had been playing in the Junior grade in Championship.

Last year’s All-Ireland win saw them move up to Intermediate and they will also be up into Division Three in next year’s League thanks to their promotion that was secured in last month’s win over Leitrim in the final at Parnell Park.

Therefore, any doubts as to whether the jump up in class would prove too much appear to have been answered with their two games in Ulster and they will hope to confirm as much this weekend.

“It a new stage we’re on, but we’ve nothing to fear,” said Kelly.

“We’ll just go and play the way we’ve been playing as it’s got us so far. If we can get a performance, we should be close.

“Both teams went with different sides last week to get the feel of each other, but it was good in that I think the girls got belief from it.

“We will just go at it as we have nothing to lose, nothing to fear, so we may as well just push on and see where we’re at. “I’d say Tyrone are probably more wary of us now as it was close last week, so we’ll see how it pans out.”

As-well-as a provincial title on offer, there are ramifications for the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship as the winner on Sunday will go into the three-team Group D rather than Group B which is the only of the four to contain four teams.

The identity of the opposition will only be confirmed at the completion of the provincials championships, but there is yet another carrot on offer for Antrim should they prevail on Sunday.

“If you win (Ulster), you’re safe from relegation,” the Antrim bainisteoir explained.

“That is big as we don’t want to be a yo-yo county going up and down. At the same time, I don’t think we will be a yo-yo as we’ve shown we’re capable of competing at Intermediate standard.

“Whether it’s the group of three or four, we should show well, but obviously, you want to get a bit of silverware.”

There is bad news on the injury front for the Saffrons as they have a number of players facing lengthy spells on the sidelines.

Aoife Kelly suffered an ACL injury in last week’s game against the Red Hands, Niamh McIntosh is out with a broken ankle, while Aine Devlin is another due to ankle ligament damage.

Those losses will be keenly felt, but it will be a case of ‘next up’ as those who have been pushing for their chance now have it.

Kelly knows the strength of the Antrim squad will be fully tested over the coming weeks but is confident there is enough there to make up for those losses and drive the team over the line this week before turning attention to the All-Ireland campaign.

“They are three big gaps to fill and I’m disappointed for the girls,” the St Paul’s clubwoman admitted.

“The squad depth will be tested but we’ve always said we’re sure people will step up. We just have to believe we’ve enough to get us over the line.

“We’ve always said the strength in depth of our squad is good as they’re all pushing each other.

“We’re improving each time and in each training session because of that, so it will show in Championship how good that depth is.

“Hopefully, when girls are called upon, they are ready to step up and step in.”