Antrim and Derry get the TG4 All-Ireland Junior Championship underway on Sunday with preliminary round home games against Longford and Carlow respectively
ANTRIM and Derry get the TG4 All-Ireland Junior Championship underway on Sunday with preliminary round home games against Longford and Carlow respectively.
While both teams will want to win to get straight passage through to the semi-finals, all is not lost for whoever does lose as they will get a second chance in the quarter-final, with British champions and runners-up entering the competition at this stage.
London, who won the British title will face the loser of the Derry and Carlow game while Lancashire will play the loser of Antrim and Longford. Whoever wins Sunday's preliminary round games will play each other in the semi-final.
The Saffrons, who are the Ulster champions, do not need any introductions when it comes to Longford having already played them twice this year during their Division Four league campaign, losing their first encounter but winning the all-important league semi-final between the two. Longford will have Antrim on their radar to make amends for that defeat, a game which many had them favourites to win, and Saffrons captain Jenny McCavana knows only too well the importance of getting off to a good start.
"We have played Longford twice already this year, we lost the first game and won the second so we have all to the play for on Sunday. We know it will be a completely different game as championship takes on a life of its own," said the St Gall's player.
They will, however, be without key player Mairead Cooper for the game, but Antrim have plenty of other leaders and score-getters on the pitch particularly full-forward Eimear Gallagher, sisters Aine and Bronagh Devlin, Meabh McCurdy and Clare Timoney.
"It is a big blow as she [Cooper] is a quality player but I feel that we have enormous strength in depth in this panel and whoever is called upon will be able to do a job come Sunday."
Carlow was the only team Derry defeated during their Division Four league campaign and they will be hoping to repeat that result again this weekend, with home advantage potentially crucial. The Oak Leaf County have been struggling this year, winning just that one game, and they suffered a heavy 4-16 to 2-2 defeat to Antrim in the Ulster final last month. At the time, manager Jock Groogan, indicated they were looking at the bigger picture and their focus was on this Sunday's game against Carlow and building for it.
The team has changed considerably since the sides last met with a lot of player turnover and a change in management as well, but Groogan is confident in this young side's ability, particularly with home advantage, and sees victory as a must, particularly if they don't want to have the face the expense of travelling to London to play the British champions in the quarter-finals.
"We have played a couple of challenge games since the Ulster final and we have also been able to make use of the Ballymaguigan pitch and get used to it, which will hopefully help us as well," said Groogan.
"This is a young team, but they have put in a lot of work and they can move the ball well and fast. A lot of the players are from Ballymaguigan and with playing there on Sunday, we are hoping to get a good home support. A win is a must and I think we are capable of beating Carlow and booking our place in the semi-finals."
TG4 All-Ireland Junior Championship preliminary round: Derry v Carlow (Sunday, Ballymaguigan, 2pm) Antrim v Longford (Sunday, St Paul's Belfast, 2pm)