TG4 All-Ireland Junior Football Championship
Antrim v Limerick (Clane, Sunday, 1pm)
Antrim senior ladies manager Dee McConville is relishing his side's first outing in over seven months as the Saffron ladies take on Limerick on Sunday afternoon in Clane, Kildare, in the first round of the TG4 All-Ireland Junior Football Championship.
It’s been a long down time since the side's last outing away to Carlow on March 8 and McConville admits it’s been a bit of an uphill battle in his first year in charge, but is looking forward to his side locking horns with Limerick at the weekend.
“As far as the start of the season was concerned, we didn’t have a great run,” said McConville.
“We played four games and lost the four of them. We didn’t play Limerick or Derry who are in our group in the Championship. It was a tough start but I was enjoying it, even though we didn’t get any wins on the board.
"For me, being the first year taking the senior ladies I knew it was going to be a bit of an uphill battle.
“The six-months out was a nightmare for me trying to keep myself busy, but I was absolutely buzzing to get back into it half-way through September with training. I’m looking forward to getting things back and going again."
McConville admits that preparations for the Championship have been less than ideal since beginning training in mid-September, with a lot of his squad having to isolate at various points, but acknowledges that it is a problem affecting all county squads.
“Training has been very cautious. We’ve a Covid supervisor there at every training session," he conformed.
"The girls are reminded before every session to make sure that they are adhering to the social distance guidance and guidelines and completing the require forms before all training sessions.
“It’s a wee bit different in that respect. We just need to be a wee bit more organised. There’s nothing that has stopped us from training as far as the guidelines are concerned but there have been a few of our girls isolating. We do have one girl that is unavailable for the first match and a few that are just coming back.
"We haven’t been at full strength throughout our training. At one point or another there has been five or six girls, maybe more, that have been self-isolating throughout this last four or five weeks.
“The most that we’ve had at a training session has been maybe 22, even though we have a panel of 30 odds. It hasn’t been ideal but it’s changed in that we haven’t been interrupted by Ulster Club Championship and we’ve had a few more girls that have made themselves available. It’s a double-edged sword I suppose.
"Every other county is in the exact same position, some are a lot worse position than we are so I can’t really complain."
The two sides were due to meet in the league in March before the coronavirus lockdown came into effect.
Antrim claimed the spoils from the most recent meeting last year with Limerick winning the corresponding fixture the year previous and McConville expects a good game lies ahead.
“Two years previous, Antrim travelled to Limerick and were beat and last year Limerick came to Ballymena and Antrim got a result," recalls the Antrim manager.
"We were due to play in the league but it didn’t happen and as far as Limerick’s progression in the league - they beat Derry and had a draw with Offaly, which would have been a good result for them.
“But like ourselves they were beaten by Leitrim, Louth and Carlow. I watched their game against Derry and they are quite strong up the middle, especially. We’re trying to adapt our game to counteract that and I’d imagine it will be quite a good game."
Antrim have been boosted by the return of last year’s captain Saoirse Tennyson who suffered a terrible knee injury in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Louth at Clones.
St Paul's club-mate Ciara Brown and Maebh McCurdy from St Gall's have also returned after long-term absentees through injury and will boost the Saffron ranks.
“We’d three big losses at the start of the year in Saoirse Tennyson, Ciara Brown and Maebh McCurdy and the three of them are now available for selection, which is very helpful for us,” McConville insists.
“They’re three girls that would probably be up the middle of our team and not having them available was very tough for us. They’ve come back a lot stronger and worked very closely with their physios and personal trainers and the three of them have been flying in training.
“A few other players have come in since the league, so the six-month break gave us the opportunity to hit the reset button to a certain extent. Our training has been a lot better with the other players that have come back in again."