By Michael McMullan
Manager Elaine Dowds, a teacher in Cross and Passion College, commented how the camogie chatter flowed around the school on Monday morning.
“The girls are buzzing…everyone is,” she said as the squad braced themselves for another week of training.
Dowds heads up a management team that includes former Antrim ‘keeper Shane Elliott, Joe Passmore – an All-Ireland winning camogie manager with Eoghan Rua, Coleraine – and Conor Gillan, manager of current Mageean Cup champions St Louis Ballymena.
The Saffrons drew with Offaly in the league earlier in the season. While Dowds points out her side have “physically and technically” been at the pitch of it this season, the gains since the league have been mental ones.
“We’ve worked very hard at some of the mental and psychological aspects of the game,” she outlined of the improvements that saw them overcome Offaly.
“To be completely honest, we’ve just upped our game. It’s championship and this is what it’s all about.”
Antrim’s league was a mixed bag. It was an opportunity to give everyone a slice at what the county craved – Division One camogie.
“I think every game teaches you something about yourself,” Dowds added. “Every game at that level is an experience, something to learn from and helps the confidence develop.”
After beating Derry in the Ulster semi-final, they lost the decider to Down.
While feeling Antrim were “a bit” complacent and didn’t perform to the level required, Dowds give credit to both Derry and Down for playing their part in that.
The Ulster final defeat prompted talk, reflection and press of the reset button ahead of the All-Ireland championship.
“I’d say everyone reflected on what we needed to do, where we had to go, how would go about it – and really it was the team that came up with answers and solutions,” Dowds explained.
“They’ve really stood up the last four or five weeks, taking full responsibility for themselves, training, matches and everything. They’ve really taken ownership of the whole thing and I’d say every single person has really stepped up.”
Antrim have a weekend off ahead of their trip to Waterford for a rematch of their 0-15 to 1-7 home defeat of earlier in the season.
“It’s championship, so it’s important for us in terms of game time and experience and to let us see where we’re at now in relation to the league,” Dowds said of the approach.
“A result isn’t the be all and end all because we are through to quarter finals but a win against Waterford would throw us in the mix for a semi-final spot.
“It would be a real challenge and we need the experience of preparing for and playing a game at that level.”