DEE McConville is hoping that the Antrim ladies are starting to turn a corner.
He’s their senior manager this year, but he hasn’t come out of nowhere, having been involved at underage levels in the last five years.
McConville says the powers-that-be in Antrim used the lockdown earlier in the year fruitfully as they sent out questionnaires to find out why some of the top players in the county seemed disinterested in donning the Saffron jersey.
Already it appears that things are starting to improve on that front – while key players like Saoirse Tennyson and Meabh McCurdy have recovered from long-term injury – and they’re now one step away from a place in the All-Ireland Junior final.
“We have been working in the background to try and make this a better place to be for players.
“I looked back and there’s been something like five managers at senior level in the last four years. There needs to be more of a consistency and stability within the county.
“I’ve been managed at underage level for the last five years so hopefully I can bring that through to the senior level.
“In fairness it’s a work-in-progress and we never expected to take any giant leaps this year, but we do have long-term plans. We’ve got girls back from injury and we’re looking after them and making sure they’re in a good place.”
He continued: “I’ve been working very closely with the executive in the last few years and during the lockdown we did a lot of work trying to figure out why some of the top players aren’t lining out for the county.
“We addressed a lot of the concerns and we’re starting to get more buy-in and building more trust. It won’t happen overnight but we’re heading in the right direction.”
McConville is realistic enough to know that they’re up against it in this weekend’s All-Ireland Junior Championship semi-final against Wicklow. The Garden county looked mightily impressive in their victories over Fermanagh and Carlow and are bidding to bounce back to the intermediate ranks at the first time of asking.
He said: “Wicklow won the All-Ireland Junior title in 2011 and since then they played at intermediate level until they were relegated last year.
“They won Division Four two years ago and beat us handily in the Division Four semi-final. They’re playing at a really good standard and had lost only one of their five Division Three matches before the lockdown.
“They’ll be red hot favourites and they’ll have backed themselves for the title from the outset as they’ll want to go up again straight away.”
Antrim booked their place in the last four with victory over Derry almost a fortnight ago on a scoreline of 2-11 to 1-7. McConville was a bit concerned by their slow start and said the same won’t do against Wicklow.
“We started slowly as we’ve tended to do, but we settled into a rhythm about half-way through the first-time and controlled the game from there on in.
“There was a spell in the second-half where they did come back but we just kicked on again after that. We can’t afford to start slow against Wicklow so we have to make sure we don’t do that on Sunday.”