Hurling & Camogie

Already-qualified Antrim have a free hit against Waterford

Waterford's Niamh Rockett will a be huge danger for the Antrim defence this weekend
Waterford's Niamh Rockett will a be huge danger for the Antrim defence this weekend



Group 3 (Saturday, 4.30pm)

Waterford v Antrim (SETU Arena)

Offaly v Limerick (TBC)

IT makes it a lot easier all round when we know beforehand who the two qualifiers are. But there are two further issues to settle – who goes into the draw for a place in the semi-finals and who will face the relegation play-offs over the next couple of weeks.

Limerick and Offaly are the teams in opposition at the bottom of the group. A win or a draw will be enough to see Limerick survive another year in the top flight.

Offaly are already relegated to Division 2A of the league and it is unlikely that they have the fire-power to avoid being in the draw for the relegation play-offs later tomorrow evening. Limerick also gave Antrim much more trouble than Offaly in the earlier games.

Turning to the top-of-the-table clash and a draw will see the Déise through to the semi-final draw.

Last year they gave Cork a scare in the semi-finals of the championship, while this season they won Division 1B of the league, beating Antrim along the way in a mid-March clash in Creggan.

Since then they have beaten Cork in the Munster championship before losing to Tipperary and enjoying big wins over Offaly and Limerick.

Antrim’s form has been less impressive this year, with failure to qualify for the league final and a poor campaign in the Ulster championship that ended with defeat by Down.

However, wins over Offaly and Limerick has lifted the mood significantly among the team and supporters and there is expectation now that they might just secure a semi-final spot for the first time since the county won the last of its six All-Ireland titles back in 1979.

This game will be a big test for them. Waterford are a genuine top-four team with aspirations of reaching the final. There are quality players floating about the team, Allstars Beth Carton and Niamh Rockett the more prominent in terms of scoring returns.

In the last match against Limerick, Carton returned a personal tally of 1-10, only two points of which came from dead balls and that brought her tally from the 10 games this season to 4-96, almost 11 points per game.

Rockett grabbed 1-2 but is a real threat to the Antrim defence, while top-class strikers like Abby Flynn and Anne Corcoran cannot nail starting jerseys.

Antrim have been unfortunate with injuries this season, never mind the two-year nightmare that Maeve Kelly has had. Captain Lucia McNaughton and Shannon Graham have played no part in the two championship games to date, although there is a possibility that McNaughton might get a few minutes in Waterford, with the expectation that she will play a bigger part in the game that follows.

The result will give an indication where Antrim camogie stands not only for this season but going forward as well. They certainly are good enough to be where they are, but how close are they to an even bigger breakthrough?

The league result in Creggan, 1-7 to 0-15, might well be the measuring stick. Something similar, or better, would be considered a step forward. A heavier defeat would be hard to shake off inside a week as they prepare for a trip to Croke Park.