By Shaun Casey
THERE will be at least one Ulster side in the last four of the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship as Antrim and Monaghan collide on Sunday for a spot in the semi-finals.
This time last year, the two counties were two competitions apart, but this season, they’ll go head-to-head in the knockout stages of the championship.
Monaghan were unceremoniously dumped out of the Senior grade last summer, losing to Waterford by 15-points in the relegation play off, while Antrim claimed the All-Ireland Junior title after a replay with Fermanagh.
The free-scoring Saffrons have adapted to live at the higher level fairly quickly, winning both their group games, against Westmeath and Longford, racking up a combined 3-35 in the process.
The Division Four league champions got off to a bumpy start, conceding 4-7 against Westmeath in the opening match but produced a much better all-round display in the second round, restricting Longford to just 0-8.
Orlaith Prenter, June’s Player of the Month, has been in outstanding form, posting 2-11 across their championship encounters. Monaghan’s season could rest on how well they deal with Antrim’s lethal attacker.
The Farney ladies haven’t been scoring quite as heavily and recorded a six-point win over Roscommon following a first-round defeat to Wexford.
Monaghan have plenty of quality themselves and will look to the likes of Rosemary Courtney, captain Muireann Atkinson, Chloe McBride and Jodie McQuillan to lead the way.
Tyrone will also be hopeful of making it through to the last four as well and going one step further than last season when they were beaten by Wexford. This weekend, they take on another Leinster foe in Kildare.
The Red Hands have been hammering home the goals throughout the campaign, netting ten times in three encounters and will hope to carry that attacking power into the weekend.
Last year’s Junior Championship finalists Fermanagh are aiming to get back to that stage and they’ll top their group with an unbeaten record if they overcome Ulster opponents Derry on Sunday.
James Daly’s side came through two tough clashes with Carlow and London but emerged victorious in both while Derry lost heavily to both teams, so will be up against it this weekend.
Down will also be out to top their section when they travel to Limerick on Sunday, having already outclassed Sligo and Kilkenny. The Mourne ladies put up a huge tally of 13-24 against the Cats while they saw off Sligo by five-points.