By Kieran Lynch
AFTER three weeks of hard training, Antrim are ready to put the disappointment of their Ulster final loss behind them when they begin their All-Ireland Senior Championship campaign on Saturday, according to manager Elaine Dowds.
The Saffrons were upset 0-15 to 0-9 by Down, but Dowds has been mightily impressed by the response she has seen from her team since that defeat.
“There was very little said in the dressing room after that match,” she said.
“Everyone went their separate ways very quickly. Sometimes, when you don’t play to your ability or reach your own expectations in a game, you just need to take a breather and reflect.
“The first training after the match, we basically agreed that it was a poor performance and that we would analyse and evaluate it to plan for training, but that we’d draw a line under it, reset and move on.
“The response from the team has been absolutely phenomenal, they’ve really stepped up in terms of attitude and effort since that game. I feel as though it has been our best three weeks all season.”
Antrim begin their championship with a home fixture against Limerick this weekend. Dowds’s team won 2-17 to 1-11 when the two teams met in the league, but she is expecting a different challenge from the Munster side on Saturday.
“Limerick didn’t have a full squad during the league, I’m aware they’ve a few players who have returned from injury, so we know they’re back to full strength,” she said.
“It’s championship, so I expect they’ll throw everything they can at us, but it’s championship for us too and we’ll be ready for the challenge.”
Dowds made no attempt to downplay the importance of Antrim’s opening fixture; as the first of back-to-back home games, she said that there is no margin for error, as they have a chance to set themselves up well for the rest of the campaign.
“We need to win on Saturday – it’s that simple,” Dowds affirmed.
“Beating Limerick and Offaly are realistic targets for us this year in Senior Championship so that’s where the focus is. We don’t want to be in a position where we’re playing our last group game against Waterford, in Waterford, and needing a win to qualify, so a win this Saturday would be perfect.
“It worked very nicely for us, getting our first two games at home. We’ll need a big support, and we’ll need them to be vocal. Every advantage we can get, we’ll take.”
Furthermore, Dowds outlined her team’s ambitions for the championship, once again highlighting the importance of their first two games.
“Realistically, if we beat Limerick and Offaly, we can qualify for the All-Ireland quarter-finals,” she said.
“As if that’s not incentive enough, they’re part of a double header with the All-Ireland Hurling semi-finals – I’d say that’s the ambition for this year.
“At worst, we need to stay up in Senior Championship for next year.”