By Michael McMullan
GETTING used to the intensity and pace of top-level camogie has been key in Antrim’s learning curve.
That’s the take from Lucia McNaughton ahead of Saturday’s final All-Ireland Senior Championship group game against Waterford (4.30pm SETU Arena).
The Saffrons have already qualified from the group regardless of this weekend’s result and they must wait for the draw to see if they face a quarter-final or are granted a bye into the last four.
Like all camogie and ladies football teams, Antrim are fulfilling the rest of the season “under protest” urging all three associations to come together to agree a charter for the 2024 season.
McNaughton missed a chunk of mid-season injury and is hoped to be back in full training this week with a chance to put herself in consideration for some action in Waterford.
“It is great that we have a panel there, people who can step up and into it whenever somebody does get injured,” said McNaughton, also a key cog in Loughgiel’s run to this season’s All-Ireland final.
Antrim used the league to get a look at as many players as possible before going into an Ulster Championship where they failed to ignite.
“We were very disappointed after the Down match (Ulster final),” McNaughton said of their crossroads.
“We had to come together to sit down and see what we needed to work on because we weren’t playing the way we could play.”
With a positive spell of training, Antrim “just clicked” in their wins over Limerick and an Offaly team they drew with in the league.
“It is good to start the senior championship with such good results and it is a confidence-booster going into the Waterford match,” McNaughton said.
“The mood in the camp is really good and when you are having good wins it boosts morale too.”
McNaughton lifted the All-Ireland Intermediate trophy as captain two years ago and she pointed to the quality Galway, Kilkenny and Cork’s second teams brought to the intermediate grade.
Now in their second season at the top level, it’s the intensity and speed of the game Antrim are being acclimatised to.
“You were also up against players you have read about or watched and you are nearly in awe at the start,” she admitted.
“Then you realise we are at that standard now and we have to get to their standard if we want to compete.”
The gym and pitch sessions were stepped up, all geared towards bracing themselves for the top level where any error is punished.
“You will be punished if you don’t show up and we have realised that,” she added. “It is great playing in this division and being able to compete as well.”
Every game is a test. Then, in training, it’s a case of harder and harder every night to ramp up the standards. Last year Antrim didn’t emerge from the group which has led to progression this season.
“You don’t expect to go and win the All-Ireland, it is probably a four- or five-year plan, developing players to get to that stage,” McNaughton said, while praising the forward planning in the county.
“’Dowdsie’ (Elaine Dowds) and the management team have done a great job, trying to develop players,” said McNaughton, who is already looking for some of this year’s successful minor team to put their shoulder to the wheel.
“It is great to see the development of that minor team.
“You hope they will go into the intermediate team or straight from minor into senior if they are at that level. You’d hope some of the girls who got intermediate camogie this year to step too.”