Down look to secure safety as Limerick come to town while Antrim look up against it in Decies clash
Very Ireland National Camogie League
Division 1B: Antrim v Waterford (Creggan, 3pm)
THE half-time scoreline from Banagher last Saturday certainly caught a lot of people by surprise. That Antrim were able to battle back from being eight points down and rescue a draw is to their credit – but this game probably brought into focus some shortcomings in the Ulster champions’ team.
They won the Intermediate championship in 2021 with a young forceful forward line and an experienced back-line. The power of the forwards could keep the pressure off their defence.
Since then they have lost three of their more experienced players and up front their two most exciting young players Maeve Kelly and Róisín McCormick have been missing. That has placed a strain on their substitute bench. Young players stepping up from minors have had to take starting jerseys rather than work themselves into contention for places by gaining experience coming off the bench for the last ten minutes.
Despite all that they have made an unbeaten start to the season and they probably only need one more win to put them into a league final with Waterford.
Antrim have masked the absence of key players through others delivering big performances. However in games like Wexford in the league final last year and Limerick in the championship, more experienced teams can exploit a lack of experience in key areas. Waterford is a more experienced team.
The Déise travel north after three very impressive wins. They were narrowly beaten in the All-Ireland senior semi-final last July and that seems to have galvanised them after relegation from the top league the previous year.
Niamh Rockett, Beth Carton and Abbie Flynn have ripped through defences in the three league games to date and Waterford have a healthy score difference of 55 points.
There is speculation that McCormick may return for this game, but even with her delivering a tour-de-force in the forward line, Antrim still look up against it.
A decent home support can play an important role in driving Antrim on – but I still can’t see anything other than a Waterford victory.
Division 2A: Derry v Kerry (Lavey, 12pm)
THE two unbeaten teams in Division 2A meet in Lavey.
Kerry leap-frogged Derry by beating Cavan while Derry sat last weekend out after a bereavement in Laois led to the postponement of their game. It means that the ever improving Munster side are now on seven points from three outings and Derry are a point behind after two.
Looking at results elsewhere over the three weeks, this is the key game for both teams. The winners will be in the league final and the losers will have a bit of work to do on March 25th.
Derry have shown improvement over their two outings and are working close to a full strength panel as players return from injury.
PJ O’Mullan will be happy enough with the win in Mullingar, their last outing, and with two more away games to play, will be determined to make home venue count this weekend.
The main threat to that happening is Kerry centre-forward Patrice Diggins who scored nine of their 11 points against Cavan in Fitzgerald stadium.
Shannon O’Doherty has been the player wearing the number six jersey in both their outings to date – but O’Mullan has changed his defence around from the first to the second game. He has two recognised centre half backs in the team, Aoife Ní Chaiside and Gráinne McAtamney, and therefore an option to give players a different role once again.
I don’t see a serious threat from other areas of the Kerry attack and would expect Derry to stack up enough scores at the other end of the pitch to see them maintain their unbeaten start.
Cavan and Meath are both in mid-table at the moment with one win each, both achieved in outings at home.
Two Niamh Keenaghan goals in Kingspan Breffni won the Laois game and her absence was really felt in Killarney last week. I understand she will not feature this week and a Meath team that scored 2-13 in their derby with Westmeath last Saturday should take advantage.
The last game is a bottom of the table clash between Westmeath and Laois with the winner probably climbing to safety.
Westmeath are best placed to achieve that.
THE opening round of games in this division last week allowed everyone to see from where Armagh’s biggest threat will come.
The immediate one will be their round two opponents Kildare who romped to a 7-11 to 1-9 win over Tyrone in Killyclogher last week with Orla Carragher and Ally Morgan each scoring two goals. They got their lead early in that game and stretched it as the game progressed.
The Lily Whites face a different proposition in Armagh who are a more experienced side than Tyrone and have appeared in league and championship finals at this level in the last three seasons.
New manager Shane Hughes got the Armagh season off to a good start without Ciara Donnelly’s formidable presence at full-forward. All six forwards and substitute Sinéad Quinn scored in their comfortable 5-11 to 2-5 win over Mayo.
There are issues that Hughes would like changed; the goals conceded were soft and a general tightening up at the back required for the visit to Newbridge. Likewise Kildare will not be happy that they conceded 1-9 in a game that they were dominating.
Whatever the result here, you would expect the teams to meet again down the line.
Tyrone can recover from that Kildare defeat by winning in Mayo – not an easy task by any means against an ever-improving team that ran them very close in the Nancy Murray Cup final last summer.
Tyrone have a lot of young players, but they are very skilful. If the likes of Lára Devlin can get enough ball in space, she can get the score-board moving fairly quickly.
However if Tyrone don’t set the pace, Mayo could wear them down and get the result.
In Group Two there were big wins for Roscommon and Carlow on the opening day and that means that their meeting this week will decide in what order they qualify for the semi-finals.
Carlow have brought more players through at underage recently while Roscommon schools have done quite well in recent years.
I would favour Carlow to win here and top the group. Roscommon should then be facing whoever wins in Newbridge.
The last game between Louth and Wicklow should result in a win for Wicklow.
Very Ireland National Camogie league
Down v Limerick (Liatroim, 2pm)
Wexford v Offaly (Glynn Barntown, 2pm)
Antrim v Waterford (Creggan, 3pm)
Derry v Kerry (Lavey, 12pm)
Cavan v Meath (Denn, 2pm)
Westmeath v Laois (TEG Cusack Park, 2pm)
Kildare v Armagh (St Conleth’s Park, 11.30am)
Mayo v Tyrone (Tooreen, 2pm)
Carlow v Roscommon (Netwatch Cullen Park, 1.30pm)
Louth v Wicklow (Darver, 2pm)