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Armagh firepower out to shoot down Antrim's quest for a provincial clean sweep

Ciara Donnelly (right) and her sister Leanne can provide the scores to trouble Antrim in Sunday's Ulster Intermediate Championship final
SÉAMAS McALEENAN

Ulster Intermediate Camogie Championship Final: Armagh v Antrim II (Sunday, Edendork, 1pm)

THE first upset at this level was Cavan’s unbeaten run through Division Three and then a smash-and-grab finish in the final against Wexford who were overwhelming favourites.

The second upset came last Saturday in Ballinagh when Antrim’s reserve team beat Cavan by 1-13 to 2-9, at the same time as the Saffrons' first team was winning back the Ulster senior title.

If the Saffrons kick on from that result and deny Armagh a second successive crown, it will mean that all five Ulster inter-county titles have gone to the Glens over the course of the past five weeks.

Armagh won the intermediate title last year by overwhelming Antrim in Pearse Óg Park after coming through tight enough games against Down and Cavan.

This year’s Antrim team is a lot different from the one that fielded in last July’s final. In fact none of the players who started against Armagh 10 months ago will feature on Sunday.

But then Armagh are fully aware of the change in personnel as the counties met in a low-scoring Division Three league game in March. Armagh had plenty of trouble getting a 0-8 to 0-6 victory.

Since then Armagh have had no bother at all in seeing off Down in a very one-sided provincial final, while Antrim battled their way through the Cavan game last Saturday.

That result should be a huge boost to Antrim’s confidence.

Cushendall pair Dervla Cosgrove (from frees) and Caoimhe McNaughton accounted for all but a point of the total last week. But it was the tenacity and discipline of the defence that took them through.

Eilish Kearns, Emma and Katie Laverty all turned in big performances while Áine Graham showed a lot of courage coming off her line at the very end to deny Cavan a goal. She is younger sister to senior netminder Catriona Graham and hoping to complete a family double.

Antrim also can call on their back-to-back Ulster winning minors. Three of last year’s All-Ireland winners started, Fionnuala Kelly, Nuala Devlin and Orlagh Laverty, all up front.

Then three of this year’s minors came off the bench in the second half to add fresh legs.

Despite all that potential Armagh have to start as favourites to retain their title.

Interestingly they now have Antrim's All-Ireland winning manager from last year Jim McKernan at the helm and, while Armagh lost the two national finals last year to Wexford, they are a lot more experienced than the young Saffrons.

The Donnelly sisters, Ciara and Leanne, can clock up scores from play or from frees and the likes of Ciara Hill and Eimear Smyth are also capable of a few scores in support.

The half-back line has been very strong for them. Eimear Hayes, Gemma McCann and Tierna Maguire are always difficult to bye-pass.

Antrim will want their defence to do the job they did last week in Cavan, close down the main scorers without conceding frees. At the other end they will need players to break through that Orchard half-back line and use the speed of the inside forwards to get the scores.

This should be a very close game. Armagh should win, but I wouldn’t dismiss the Antrim challenge. They are on a high from recent provincial successes at senior, minor and U16 level and this team has already put down a marker last weekend.

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