By Niall Gartland
THERE was some initial scepticism about the necessity of fielding a ‘Junior’ camogie team in Antrim, but the proof is in the pudding and in their first year they’re on the brink of All-Ireland glory at Croke Park.
Brian Kearney (joint-manager of the team alongside Mark ‘Duck’ McFadden) said the development of Antrim camogie was the mission statement underpinning the new venture, but they’re made rapid progress and will quietly fancy their chances against Armagh on Sunday.
The teams have already met on three occasions this year, but the gap seems to be narrowing and Armagh had to work hard for their two-point victory in the group stages of the Championship. Kearney assures that the Saffrons, predominantely comprised of promising young camogs in the county, aren’t just there to ‘make up the numbers’.
“Armagh are a quality, experienced side, but we’ve entered into this whole thing with the intention of winning games, we’re not there to make up the numbers.
“At the start of the year, our plan was to grow the senior team and provide a platform for the growth of camogie in Antrim. While there were a few skeptics at the start, there’s certainly a belief now that this is good for Antrim camogie.”
A few doubts crept in after a string of losses in the League, but a surprise victory over Cavan in the semi-finals of the Ulster Intermediate Championship steeled the side with a much-needed shot of confidence.
“That was a huge lift to us. We’d lost to Cavan and Armagh in the league and we were on a bit of a downer.
“They weren’t big defeats but a loss is a loss at the end of the day. That win against Cavan in Ulster gave us a lift. We were put back in our box by Armagh in the Ulster final but maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing heading into the championship.”
Antrim’s most significant win of the season was their All-Ireland semi-final triumph over Clare, a marathon battle they came through after two sessions of extra-time.
Opponents Armagh have been there and done that at this stage (they won the 2020 All-Ireland and lost last year’s showdown against Wexford) and Kearney is conscious this will be the first time his players will line out at GAA headquarters.
“As far as I’m aware, none of them have played in Croke Park before so it’s a big step up for them. It’ll be a totally new experience and we’re going in against a very experienced Armagh side so that’s something we’ll have to prepare for.”
Whatever happens, a few of his players are likely to get called into the senior team in the near future and for that reason, as much as anything else, this season has been a roaring success.
“We’ve already lost two girls to the senior team earlier this year but you’re always happy to see girls play at the higher level.
“I would imagine the senior manager will be keeping an eye on a few more of them, but if that happens we’ll bring more girls in. It’s a conveyor belt and so far it’s all going to plan.”