Football

Defeat unthinkable as Antrim chase Division Three place

Orlaith Printer has been Antrim's leading scorer in this season's league
Orlaith Printer has been Antrim's leading scorer in this season's league Orlaith Printer has been Antrim's leading scorer in this season's league

LIDL LADIES’ NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE

DIVISION FOUR SEMI-FINAL

Antrim v Limerick (Saturday, Whitehall Colmcille Collins Ave, 2pm)

PROMOTION and league title-chasing Antrim and Limerick meet in a Division Four semi-final showdown, both with high hopes of booking a place in next month’s decider.

Both have made it clear their desire to win Division Four this year and earn promotion to Division Three and whichever team does not come out on the right end of the result it will be extreme disappointment.

This will be the first time since 2019 the sides have met in the league, but they need no introduction to each other, having been regular acquaintances in the junior championship over the past three years, with Antrim winning the last two encounters.

This will be the only time they meet this year following Antrim’s All-Ireland junior triumph last year which means they will make the step up to intermediate.

Antrim are looking to reach their first final since 2019, which was also the year of their last league semi-final appearance.

They have played in three league finals but the league title and more importantly promotion has so far eluded them.

Limerick are semi-final regulars and excluding 2020 are in their fourth consecutive semi.

They are also last year’s beaten league finalists, having lost to Offaly. They have been up and down between Division Three and Four over the years. Their most recent Division Four league title was in 2016 but they have been back down in the fourth tier since 2018 after spending just a season in Division Three.

There should be little between the teams and Antrim manager Emma Kelly knows her side need to produce an all-round top-drawer performance.

They certainly have the players at their disposal to do so and in just three games in their group they hit 16-48 compared to Limerick’s 13-35 over four games. 

They did concede 4-20, with Limerick conceding 1-32, having played an extra game as well and Kelly has alluded to the importance of keeping Limerick out.

“We will have to move the ball quicker, our defence will have to stop Limerick from getting any goals. Iris Kennelly and Cathy Mee and Roisin Ambrose have been brilliant but they have a lot of other girls around them that do a lot of hidden work as well,” said Kelly.

“Our girls will have to step up to the plate and it’s going to be a complete squad game.

‘‘We will have to be tight in defence, organised and go at them and get the scores on the board and try and slow them down to overturn them is going to be massive.

‘‘It’s a huge, huge game. I really don’t want to think about not winning but we are set up, ready and will go out with the ‘need to win’ mindset and we will not lie down. The girls know what is at stake.”

Antrim certainly have match-winners and players that Limerick will have on their radar to stop – Orlaith Prenter at full-forward, captain Cathy Carey’s experience at centre half-forward, Aoife Taggart, Lara Dahunsi, Bronagh Devlin operating around them in the forward lines, and Aine Tubridy in midfield.

They also have experience at the back, not least in goalkeeper Anna McCann, Ciara Brown, Niamh McIntosh, Duana Coleman and Sarah O’Neill.

“Limerick will be out to write the wrongs from last year,’’ adds Kelly.

‘‘We have never got out of Division Four and it’s been set as our must-do this year and it’s the only way we can see Antrim as a whole progressing is to get out of there.

‘‘If we don’t win we will be extremely disappointed and to be honest I don’t want to think about it. We just want to look forward to the game and try our best to come out the right side of the result.

SUNDAY (2pm unless stated)

DIVISION ONE

Donegal v Mayo (O’Donnell Park) 

RELEGATION-threatened Donegal have one last chance to save their top-tier status. Nothing less than a win will do for Maxi Curran’s side, with a win sending Mayo down on head-to-head. 

It was evident that Donegal would struggle this campaign with such a large number of experienced regulars missing and although a few of them have gradually returned in the last couple of games, including Katy Herron and captain Niamh McLaughlin, the results have not gone Donegal’s way. Where they were competing in a league final almost 12 months ago, their current fortunes could not be so contrasting.  

Mayo have not been firing on all cylinders either but they do have points on the board thanks to a win over league champions Meath. That was back in the fourth round and they come in to this one on the back of successive defeats to Dublin and Galway. 

DIVISION TWO

Tipperary v Armagh (Fethard Town Park 3G, 1pm) 

ARMAGH have already booked their place in the Division Two final next month but their final opponents are still unknown, with Tipperary and Laois battling it out for the other place. 

Tipp are in pole position and a point will do them on Sunday. Defeat would not rule them out but they would need Laois to slip up against bottom side Roscommon to ensure they don’t miss out on the final spot.

Should Laois win and Tipperary lose then it would be Laois who progress to the final on the head-to-head result, which saw them win by a point. 

Tyrone v Cavan (Newtownstewart) 

TYRONE end their campaign with an all-Ulster encounter against Cavan. The sides sit side-by-side in mid-table but it’s Cavan with their noses in front on nine points, three ahead of Tyrone.  

Both managers can take plenty away from their seven games in this extremely competitive league.  

Games between the two tend to be hard-fought battles, but it has been Cavan who have come out on top more often. Since Tyrone came down into Division Two in 2017, the Breffni county has won four of their five encounters, the 2019 meeting between them ending in a draw. 

Westmeath v Monaghan (St Loman’s, Mullingar) 

MONAGHAN need a point in their final game against Westmeath to ensure they retain their Division Two status. If the result of their own game does not go their way, then their fate lies in the hands of the result of the Laois v Roscommon game. 

A defeat for Roscommon will be enough to see Monaghan stay up. If Roscommon win – and Monaghan lose – they will be tied on four points each and because their head-to-head result was a 0-13 apiece draw, relegation will come down to scoring difference. Currently, despite being bottom of the table, Roscommon’s scoring difference is 12 points better than Monaghan’s. 

Westmeath are just above Monaghan in the table with two wins from their six games but they are safe in Division Two for another year. They lost to Armagh last weekend.

DIVISION THREE  

Louth v Down (Darver) 

BOTH these sides can still qualify for the final, but a lot depends on how other games go. 

Kildare and Wexford meet in a top-of-the-table clash. A draw will be enough for the both of them to qualify for the final, but should one of them lose and there is a win for Down (or Louth) second place will be decided on a head-to-head results.

Clare also remain in the hunt, and if they beat Longford it will there will be a three-way tie for second, which will be decided on scoring difference.

Down have the third best scoring difference in the group, but there is a 20-plus points gap between them and Wexford and a 40-plus gap between them and Kildare. 

Whatever the outcome, it’s been a good campaign for Down and manager Peter Lynch will approach the junior championship knowing they are going in the right direction.