TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship Group 4: Westmeath v Antrim (Saturday, St Loman’s Mullingar, 2pm)
ULSTER champions Antrim embark on their All-Ireland trail with a trip to Westmeath tomorrow, hopeful at what the next few weeks might bring.
With nothing to lose, they will pit themselves against Westmeath first and then Longford in this three-team group with the top two qualifying for the quarter-final stages. After their maiden intermediate provincial title, beating Tyrone 2-18 to 1-13, intermediate teams all over the country will certainly have taken notice of this Saffron rising, not least their group opponents.
Westmeath will give Antrim a real indication of where they stand among the intermediate championship competing counties. The Leinster side were one of two counties relegated from the senior championship last year, having spent just a year in the top tier, while they were also a division one team for five years until their relegation from there last year.
Form and results in the last year might suggest they are a team that has gone back a little – they finished mid table in Division Two while, despite coming through the group stages of a competitive Leinster provincial championship with wins over Offaly, Wicklow and Louth, they fell short in the semi-final losing to Wexford – but the experience of playing at the top levels will still count for a lot and they would hope themselves to not be another former senior team to fall to Antrim, as both Tyrone and Monaghan have already done this championship season.
Their captain Ciara Blundell, Rachel Dillon, Vicky Carr, Johanna Quinn and Aoife Connolly, who converted a 45 worth two points against Louth in the provincial championship, are among the players who can take the game to Antrim and see what they have to offer.
Emma Kelly’s Antrim though certainly have the personnel to cause Westmeath problems. All six starting forwards got on the scoresheet in the Ulster final and in Orlaith Prenter they have the provincial intermediate Golden Boot winner. Grainne McLaughlin was a late addition to the starting line-up in the final and she scored two points, also rattling the cross bar. Theresa Mellon was given a more defensive role making sure she got back to cover but in the second half she pressed forward and grabbed 1-2 while playmaker Lara Dahunsi contributed three points. Antrim are a very fast moving team with many attacks starting in the heart of their defence as they force turnovers and that will be crucial to their cause.
Westmeath will hope they don’t become undone by their opponents, especially on home ground in Mullingar, but this is an Antrim side who will be chomping at the bit, coming in with serious momentum and ready to see where they can go.
Saturday (2pm unless stated)
All-Ireland Intermediate Championship round one
Group 1: Leitrim v Kildare (Páirc Sheáin Mhic Dhiarmada)
Group 2: Offaly v Clare (Bretland Park, 12noon), Tyrone v Wicklow (Lannleire)
Group 3: Roscommon v Wexford (Dr Hyde Park)
Group 4: Westmeath v Antrim (St Loman’s Mullingar)