Sport

Antrim camogs on the road on return to senior championship action

Down Niamh Mallon with Caoimhe Conlon of Antrim at Owenbeg during the National Camogie Leagues Division 2 Final on Saturday 19th June 2021. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Séamas McAleenan

Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior championship Group Two: Offaly v Antrim (today, Birr, 5pm)

ANTRIM’S first game in the All-Ireland senior championship for quite some time will see them travel to Birr after a mixed bag from their last two games.

Unbeaten through Division Two, they were carved open by Wexford for a goal in the first minute in Croke Park and the situation got progressively worse before a third of the league final was gone; three goals conceded inside 13 minutes and then they lost a player to a red card on 20 minutes.

But the Saffrons recovered some lost ground over the rest of that game with a spirited performance and then built on that in Edendork on the last day of April by tearing Down apart in the first 10 minutes, effectively dethroning the Ulster titleholders since 2018 with a blast of 2-4

The latter success was achieved without the services of Nicole O’Neill at midfield or Maria Lynn in defence, two of the six players who collected Soaring Star awards a month earlier.

Amy Boyle, who started last year’s All-Ireland final in attack, did an excellent marking job on Niamh Mallon in that game while Niamh Cosgrove moved to midfield and linked well with Lucia McNaughton allowing her to get into scoring positions oftener.

It looks likely that Boyle will be handed a one-on-one marking job on either Sara Harding or Máiréad Teehan, two of Offaly’s main scoring threats.

If the Saffrons get off to the start they did in the Ulster final and hold on for victory, plenty of possibilities open out ahead of them. Lose and their focus immediately switches to avoiding the relegation trap-door.

The Antrim forward line was at its best in the Down game when they were able to spread the sliotar diagonally and stretch the defence. When they tried to work their way through with short passes in the middle third of the game they allowed their opponents to crowd them out and gain a foothold.

If the forwards manage to get width into the game, it could be high-scoring and entertaining. Management would settle for less than that as long as they come home with a win to bring into the Ulster derby next weekend.

DOWN open their All-Ireland account with two home games against 2020 league champions Kilkenny and the Ulster derby with Antrim on May 28. Home venue is welcome at any time, but both are very difficult games.

Kilkenny travel to Liatroim a week after convincingly beating Dublin to retain the Leinster title and they looked pretty impressive in that game.

By contrast, Down’s last outing was three weeks ago when they lost their Ulster title to Antrim in a game that didn’t go well for them in the early stages.

Not only were they carved open for two goals that put Antrim in control, but they lost the leadership of the recently returned Paula O’Hagan to a hamstring injury in the ninth minute. O’Hagan’s availability for this game is still in doubt.

Management had to bring Dearbhla Magee out from full-back into attacking from deep through the middle and that was when they were most effective. However it also left them vulnerable at the back and they were punished by the third Antrim goal that killed off the come-back ten minutes from time.

Niamh Mallon provides the team were their only consistent scoring threat and there is little doubt that Kilkenny will make provision to see that she doesn’t get to run up the totals she did in her maiden season in the top flight. Kilkenny have title aspirations. Most will expect them to win and win easily. Down will do well to stay with them deep into the second half as they did when Galway visited in the league.

In the other game in that group, Galway should open their title defence with an easy victory over Limerick.

In Group One Cork should be able to shake off any fatigue after last Saturday’s Munster final thriller with Clare to beat Wexford. That Munster final went to extra time and then a second period of extra time before the Lee-siders won the title by 0-24 to 1-18.

Clare are in great form this year. They already beat Tipperary in a semi-final replay, but a strenuous three weeks might catch up on them as they take on a Tipp team who are on a revenge meeting.

There could well be a surprise result in the last of the senior games with Dublin playing well at the moment and Waterford not having a good season at all.

Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior championship

Today

Group One (all 5pm)

Waterford v Dublin (Walsh Park)

Wexford v Cork (Enniscorthy)

Tipperary v Clare (The Ragg)

Group Two

Offaly v Antrim (Birr, 5pm)

Down v Kilkenny (Liatroim, 3pm)

Galway v Limerick (Pearse Stadium 3.30pm)

Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Premier Junior championship

Today

Group One

Limerick v Armagh (Bruff, 2pm)

Roscommon v Antrim (Ballyforan, 5pm)

Tipperary v Cavan (The Ragg, 2pm)

Clare v Mayo (Cusack Park, 2pm)

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