By Niall Gartland
ANTRIM ladies boss Emma Kelly knows that the cat is out of the bag as they gear up for their All-Ireland Intermediate Championship opener against Westmeath on Sunday (2pm – St Loman’s).
The Saffrons are riding the crest of a wave following their stunning victory over Tyrone in the Ulster Intermediate Championship final less than a fortnight ago, winning the title for the first time in their history and doing so with a performance of real class.
The downside, if you can call it that, is that they’re now unlikely to be taken for granted as they turn their attention to their All-Ireland campaign. Saffrons manager Emma Kelly believes they have all the talent in the world, however, so who knows where their campaign might take them.
“There’s no reason why we can’t get to a quarter-final and take it from there. We’ll push hard, turn up and perform, we’ve the ability to give other teams headaches and we’ll see what happens on the day.
“A lot of people got an eye opener as to what we can do against Tyrone, teams will know we have the speed, scoring power and a good defence.
“So maybe people will be wary of us but we have to go with it and see how it goes. The county is on a high at the minute, and we’ll probably bring in a few minors to get them a bit of experience as well as their campaign is now over.
“The management team will obviously train and prepare the girls and take a look at the other teams and how to counter-act them, but really, it’s up to the girls themselves and if they play to their potential, we can definitely do damage.”
Their first-round opponents Westmeath were All-Ireland Intermediate champions as recently as 2021. They had a fairly mixed campaign league campaign in Division Two, but on paper they’ve been operating at a higher level than Antrim. The caveat to that is so were Tyrone but they were rolled over in the Ulster Intermediate final.
“There’s a great buzz in the camp and we’re going into the unknown. We’ve never played Westmeath before, while we played Longford back in the 2016 All-Ireland Junior final, we threw that game away really. But it’s a completely different Antrim now, and we’re confident about the task in front of us.
“It’s just about who turns up and does the simple things the best, it’s a simple game and sometimes it’s overcomplicated by coaches and analysts. It’s who plays better on the day, you can do all the preparations in the world but something could go wrong in the warm up or someone could just be having a bad day, you never really know.
“We have a few injuries at the moment and we can’t afford any more either. Because of the injuries it’s been brilliant to see other girls stepping up to fill those roles.
“We’re still trying to keep the injured girls involved and make sure they still feel part of it.
“Some of them are out for the rest of the season and possibly most of next season as well so it’s heart-breaking for them.”