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Down look to make their mark on top flight return as Antrim begin promotion push

Maeve Kelly will miss Antrim's National League opener against Kerry with a broken foot Picture: Margaret McLaughlin.
SEAMAS McALEENAN

Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues, Division 1: Tipperary v Down (tomorrow, The Ragg, 2pm)

IN 1998, Down won the Division Two league and Intermediate championship double. However, their elevation to the top rank in both league and championship didn’t last long and they quickly reverted to the lower grades.

Last season they played in the senior championship and won their ticket to stay there. This weekend they begin their first Division One league campaign in more than two decades and the hope is that they can remain there and build a team that can compete at the top level.

However, some of the key players in Down’s successes of the last couple of years are not immediately available due to injury, maternity leave and Portaferry’s run in the club championship.

It leaves new manager Paul Donnelly and his assistants, Micky Glover and Sara Louise Graffin, with a huge challenge – and an away game in The Ragg is a very difficult opening challenge indeed.

Their opponents are at the level, just below the top three of Galway, Kilkenny and Cork and will want to take that step up sooner rather than later. They will not entertain a slip up in this opening game meaning that Down could be in for a tough afternoon.

If Down come away with a decent performance, they will have something to build on.

Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues Division Two: Kerry v Antrim (Sunday, Lixnaw GAA, 2pm)

VERY similar to Down last year, All-Ireland intermediate champions Antrim will be expected to go as far in Division Two as they did last year.

Last June they lost the final to Down and they will have targeted promotion to Division One as one of their aims for this new season which starts in Lixnaw on Sunday under new management.

Antrim beat Kerry fairly comfortably in the All-Ireland intermediate quarter-final last August and should not have too much bother with the Kingdom in this opener.

However, they have a few injury concerns including star forward Maeve Kelly who has a broken bone in her foot from a Higher Education game before Christmas.

There is, however, enough talent in the squad to absorb this loss and register a first victory.

Derry are also under new management for this season and they will travel to Ashbourne hoping to avenge a surprise defeat to Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final last July.

The Slaughtneil contingent of course will be absent as their

All-Ireland club semi-final is next weekend at Kingspan Breffni in Cavan. New boss Martin Coulter will use a mixture of experienced inter-county players and some newcomers as he assesses what talent he has willing to commit to the county.

Derry probably should not have lost to Meath in the championship, but it will be difficult, although not impossible, to reverse that result with a reduced panel.

Elsewhere Wexford should be a huge threat in this division and they should start with a victory in Cork while Waterford coming down from Division One are also favoured to reach the knock-out stages. A win over Westmeath looks a formality.

Galway are another team fancied to do well while the final game between Kilkenny and Tipperary could go either way.

WEEKEND FIXTURES

Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues, Division One (tomorrow, 2pm)

Galway v Offaly (Gort GAA)

Tipperary v Down (The Ragg)

Kilkenny v Limerick (John Locke’s Callan)

Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues, Division 2

Tomorrow

Cork v Wexford (2pm, Cork Camogie Grounds)

Meath v Derry (1pm, Donaghmore Ashbourne)

Westmeath v Waterford (2pm, TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar)

Kilkenny v Tipperary (2pm, St. Lachtain’s GAA, Freshford)

Galway v Laois (12.30pm, Gort GAA)

Sunday

Kerry v Antrim (Lixnaw GAA, 2pm)

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