Different scenarios for Derry and Antrim camogs
All-Ireland Intermediate Championship
ANTRIM and Derry are in completely different situations entering the final round of group games in the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship this Saturday.
Derry can afford to lose fairly heavily to Tipperary and still top their group, while the Saffrons must beat Kildare by a margin of 12 points to assure themselves of one of the two qualification spots from Group Two.
The games over the previous two weekends have left the counties facing unexpected situations since the only game that Derry has won this year was a League relegation play-off while Antrim were seeded for the championship and their form book last year and this suggested that they were the team best prepared to step into Down’s shoes to move up a grade.
Derry are now the only team in their group with a plus score difference – a whopping 26 points achieved from two long trips down the country, and that after a poor showing in the Ulster championship at the start of July.
However the team they fielded against Antrim in Loughgiel is much changed with the addition of Slaughtneil pair Louise Dougan and Shannon Graham in particular making a huge difference. Graham is in her usual centre-forward position while Dougan, who has re-defined the role of sweeper with her club, finds herself as the regular centre-back with club-mate Aoife Ní Chaiside dropping back to the edge of the square.
Despite losing Karen Kielt to injury after the end of their league campaign, Derry look like a team that could go places and they are strongly favoured to beat Tipperary.
Indeed they already saw off the Munster team in a Division Two league relegation battle in early June. The final score that day was 3-20 to 2-9 with Kielt contributing 1-3.
I cannot see Tipperary travelling to Owenbeg and overturning that score-line. So, there should be an opportunity for Ciarán Cunningham to again run his bench and ask the substitutes to state their case.
In the other game in the group, Laois should make the cut against Kerry particularly since they have home venue for the game.
Antrim have played the reserve teams of Kilkenny and Cork in their group and struggled in both games. They were lucky enough to pull clear at the end of the Kilkenny game in Dunloy and pick up the win, but they paid the penalty for another slow start in Cork last week with the home side forcing them to chase down a nine points’ lead in the final quarter.
To add to their anxieties prolific forward Maeve Kelly sustained a hand injury at training earlier this week and is a definite non-start against Kildare with participation in the rest of the competition in doubt should Antrim progress.
Despite the Ballycastle girl’s absence they are expected to have little problem in beating Kildare in their final game and should Cork beat Kilkenny, then the Saffrons will reach the quarter-finals in a fortnight’s time.
However should Kilkenny take advantage of home venue to beat their rivals from Munster, then Antrim could well go out on score-difference. The Saffrons need to beat Kildare by a clear margin of 12 points to make sure that the result of the game in Kilkenny does not impact their progress. That can happen, but they will need to close up shop at the back.
Kildare are not prolific scorers. In the two games to date they scored 0-7 and 1-7 and conceded plenty at the other end. It will be a major shock if Antrim do not outscore them, but achieving a margin of 12 or more points is a more difficult target to achieve.
Meath and Galway are already assured of the top two spots in Group One. Both are contenders for the Intermediate title but the team that wins the head-to-head should stand a better chance than the loser of reaching Croke Park.
Predictions: The group winners should be Galway, Cork and Derry with Meath, Antrim and Laois claiming quarter-final spots. Carlow, Kildare and Tipperary will probably be in relegation trouble.
Saturday: Group One: Dublin v Carlow; Group Two: Antrim v Kildare; Kilkenny v Cork; Group Three: Laois v Kerry, Derry v Tipperary
Sunday: Group One: Meath v Galway