BY KIERAN LYNCH
LAST year’s All-Ireland Junior champions Antrim started 2023 off on the right foot, winning their league opener, and they will be hoping to build momentum with a win away to London this weekend.
The Saffrons defeated Fermanagh 1-13 to 1-6 in a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland decider, and manager Emma Kelly stressed the importance of getting two points on the board early, as unlike the other three divisions, Division Four is split into 4A and 4B.
“It was key to get off to a winning start, because Division Four is split into two halves, and it feels like championship football at the minute, where one mistake could really come back to bite you,” she said.
“Fermanagh are a strong team, so we knew that we had to come out and get a good start against them, so we weren’t in a scenario where we’re playing catch up later on in the group.
“In Divisions One, Two and Three, they’re playing seven games, so if a team loses a game in any of those divisions, they can say, ‘it’s fine, we’ll steady the ship and come back again’; whereas, the likes of Fermanagh now are already under pressure to get results, because they’re playing Carlow next, who beat London.”
Key to victory was the performance of sharpshooter Orlaith Prenter, who scored 0-9 for the victors, and she is building on from a tremendous club season with beaten Senior Ulster finalists Moneyglass.
“Orlaith came into the squad last year, and was getting better with each performance,” said Kelly.
“And then she was flying at club level – she was named as the top scorer in Ulster in the Club Championship. She’s top class; left foot, right foot, a reliable free taker as well, she’s an important player for us.
“But we have a really strong squad overall, with a lovely mix between youth and experience, and Anna Mulholland who is only out of minor was excellent too, winning so much dirty ball.”
Up next for Antrim are London, and although they have a win under their belt, Kelly says they need to double down on it now with another good performance.
“It was a massive win for us last time out,” she said.
“It doesn’t take the pressure off, but it makes things a little bit more manageable for the next game. But it won’t mean anything if we don’t put in a performance when we go over to London, because we need to get a couple more points on the board.”
Usually, a weekend trip to London provides a squad with a fantastic opportunity for team bonding, but with the game taking place during mid-term, Kelly says that the trip will be quite expensive, and consequently, Antrim will have a reduced squad travelling, and won’t be spending much time in the city.
“We’re not getting a weekend out of it; we’re flying over in the morning, playing a game, and flying back home again,” she said.
“With the cost of things, we’re taking 24 girls with us, and a couple of girls whose names are on the flight are injured now, so the squad becomes even smaller.
“If it hadn’t have been mid-term weekend we would probably be staying longer and we all would have went, but unfortunately its too expensive.”