Fermanagh and Down on All-Ireland JFC final collision course

Kristine Reidy of Limerick in action against Sarah McCarville of Fermanagh during last year’s TG4 All-Ireland Ladies’ JFC  semi-final. The sides meet again at the same stage on Saturday
Kristine Reidy of Limerick in action against Sarah McCarville of Fermanagh during last year’s TG4 All-Ireland Ladies’ JFC semi-final. The sides meet again at the same stage on Saturday

TG4 All-Ireland Ladies' JFC semi-finals (live on YouTube Sport TG4)

Down v Carlow (Sunday, Parnell Park, 2pm)

ULSTER champions Down have their sights set on a place in the All-Ireland junior final but know they must put in a business-like performance against opponents Carlow in tomorrow’s semi-final. 

Carlow, however, will be out to cause an upset and book their own place in a first-ever All-Ireland final, finally getting over the semi-final hurdle that has saw them come up short for the last two years with defeats to Antrim on both occasions. 

Down, having been relegated from intermediate last season, are one of the favourites to land this year’s junior title, and so far they have shown they are serious contenders. They should be too strong for their Leinster opponents. 

Full-forward and current championship top scorer (across all three grades) Natasha Ferris was forthright earlier this week when she said their aim from the start of the season was to reach the All-Ireland junior final and win it and make an immediate return back to the intermediate championship.

They feel they belong there but they are also acutely aware they have to earn the right to get back into the middle tier.

Managers Peter Lynch and Caoibhe Sloan will be keen to ensure their players do not let complacency set in. There is still plenty of football left to be played, this game only guaranteeing the winners a place in the Croke Park decider next month and nothing else. 

Carlow have been boosted this year by the return of Cliodhna Ní Shé, who was the inaugural Golden Boot recipient for championship top scorer in 2021 with 9-19, despite her season ending at the semi-final stages of the junior competition.

This year she has 5-17 in the championship, her scoring prowess helping her side to wins over Derry and London as they bounced back from an earlier defeat to Fermanagh in the group stages.

Sara Doyle is another player that Down will be keen to keep quiet – so far she has registered 5-13.

Carlow also have the experience of playing in the Leinster intermediate championship this summer and although their three outings against Kildare, Wexford and Longford all ended in defeat, putting themselves up against intermediate opposition they hope will stand to them.  

The Mourne County have a lot of experience and they will be calling upon it all from players like Ferris, captain Meghan Doherty, Ciara Byrne, Viv McCormack, Aisling Cull, Duffy sisters – Orla and Laoise – Aoife Laverty and Aoife Keown and having come through a tough final group game against Limerick ,another title challenger, winning 1-13 to 1-7, will certainly have been good preparation for the knockout stages. 

Limerick v Fermanagh (today, Glennon Bros Pearse Park, 2pm)

FERMANAGH are on the cusp of back-to-back All-Ireland final appearances, but Limerick stand in their way in this afternoon’s junior semi-final in Longford.  

These two opponents are well familiar with one another and both will be equally wary of each other.

It’s expected to be an evenly contested affair, each knowing that if they don’t perform to their best, they will leave Pearse Park empty-handed. 

Limerick’s last final appearance was in 2018, when they beat Louth in the junior decider, but they spent just one season at intermediate level, relegated back to junior for 2020.

This is their fourth consecutive semi-final but they have stumbled at this juncture, most recently against today’s opponents in last year’s semi-final.

That day, the sides served up a 10-goal thriller, Fermanagh winning 7-9 to 3-12.  

Fermanagh went on to lose the junior final to Antrim after a replay and so getting back to the final and getting a chance once again to land the junior title was high on the agenda for James Daly’s side this season.  

The Erne county, should they win, would find themselves in a fifth All-Ireland junior final since 2017.

They won it that year, but like Limerick, spent just a year at intermediate before coming back down again.

They reached the junior final once more in 2019 but lost to Louth in the final before going a step further in the Covid-hit 2020 year to clinch the silverware.

After 2021 at intermediate, it was straight back to another final last year but they missed out as Antrim took the honours. 

They qualified for the semis as group winners with really good wins over fellow semi-finalists Carlow, London and Derry, all of whom have equipped Daly’s charges with good tests heading into these latter stages. 

Blaithin Bogue, last year’s Junior Players’ Player of the Year, has been prolific and is their top scorer and will carry the biggest threat to Limerick, but she has been backed up by Roisin O’Reilly, Danielle Maguire and Sarah Britton.

Missed chances cost Fermanagh in their Ulster final loss to Down but converting their opportunities into scores is something Daly and his players have worked at and they need to make them all count against Limerick.

The Fermanagh defence will also need to be on their toes as they come up against the likes of Cathy Mee and Iris Kennelly, who will help to carry Limerick’s fight to the Ulster side.