LGFA All-Ireland Junior Final replay
Antrim v Fermanagh (Athletic Grounds, Saturday, 5pm, live on TG4)
ANTRIM ladies captain Cathy Carey expressed her relief that Antrim live to fight another day in their quest to lift a first All-Ireland Junior title in 10 years as they gear up to take on Fermanagh in the replay of the final in Armagh on Saturday.

The Saffrons were seconds away from suffering yet more final heartache as they trailed 1-13 to 1-12 having endured a fierce Fermanagh rally in the second half and seeing a controversial penalty decision going against them.

They would be rewarded for their spirited performance throughout, however, when Orlaith Printer, kicked over in the final minute to rescue a draw and set up a replay at Armagh’s Athletic Grounds this weekend.

When quizzed on her take on the penalty incident, Carey insisted that it was out of the players heads, and that they have been fully focused on preparing right for Saturday’s game.

“After the final we just went through the match, but we did not focus on the penalty decision,” said the Moneyglass woman.

“It and other decisions that are made in a match can’t be changed so we can’t worry about them too much. We need to worry about what we can do to help our own performance, so the focus has been on how we can improve for the next game.

“In the end both teams had opportunities to win it and both could have lost it so we’re just glad to get a second bite at the cherry and a draw was better than losing.”

Carey pointed out that the obvious area of improvement for Emma Kelly’s side ahead of the weekend is in front of goal.

They managed to create 35 scoring chances at Croke Park, but their points on the board didn’t reflect such dominance, with Carey hoping the team can rectify this at the weekend.

“We must improve all over the pitch, but the most obvious area is our conversion rate,” she agreed.

“We didn’t kick as many points and goals as we would have liked compared to the number of chances we had. We were creating the chances but just not finishing them so there’s plenty to improve on. Hopefully we have done enough in these two weeks to work on that.”

Reflecting on the enthralling final, Carey is hoping that Antrim’s positive performance, will stand the squad in good stead ahead of another tough encounter on Saturday.

“Hopefully Sunday showed us that the game isn’t over until it is over, and you must fight to the bitter end for it,” she accepts.

“Any kind of final experience is good experience, and it stands by a team, especially for the younger players you just hope that everyone has picked up something for it. As a team we know it’s never going to be an easy final to win.

“The fact we were creating scoring chances is a massive positive.

“We’ve been looking at the positives and trying to build on those and then you are working on the things that didn’t go right alongside that.

“The game went well for a good part of it. Each team is going to have their purple patch and I’m not surprised it ended in a draw given the nature of our last number of games.”

The skipper is hoping that having a full panel available for the game in Armagh will again enable Antrim to go toe to toe with Fermanagh, who are becoming familiar foes for the Saffrons, with this set to be the fifth meeting between the sides this year.

“Everyone got through the game injury free and has been in training so it’s just about managing that,” she reports.

“We were very fortunate we had a full panel to pick from in the first game so if this week goes okay, we will have the same panel again.”

Carey, who has featured in all of Antrim’s All-Ireland Junior finals admits that whilst nothing will beat playing at Croke Park, this Sunday’s game closer to home may enable a better atmosphere to be generated.

“You love playing at Croke Park, it’s great and hopefully the experience of playing in a big stadium for the first time for many of the girls will carry through to Armagh this week.

“I think but, in terms of two Ulster teams playing in a replay, it promotes the game better having it in Armagh.

“It’s closer to the two counties, you might get a few neutrals to the game and hopefully create a good atmosphere. We would love to see a big crowd there.”

The two-time All-Ireland winner says that the Antrim squad will be taking inspiration from Antrim’s camogie team, who clinched their own historic All-Ireland Junior title last weekend.

“Just watching the camogie team was brilliant to see. You want to emulate that and bring as much silverware back to the county as possible, and the fact that they did it gives us another kick to go for it. It was a great buzz watching and hopefully we can follow suit,” she added.

Having experienced the highs and more recently the lows of All-Ireland finals in her career, Carey believes that finally ending Antrim’s decade drought for the title will have a massive impact on the sport in the Saffron County.

“Winning it would provide a boost to the county,” she opines.

“We haven’t won it in ten years now and we’ve always talked about being able to provide something for younger girls to look up to and aspire to be.

“We have great underage coming through and the sport is growing in the county. One win like this would give it a massive boost.

“A lot of work goes on behind closed doors and it would be nice to see that rewarded and a good platform for the youth coming through to build towards.”