Mallon a major loss for Down ahead of Antrim clash

By Shaun Casey

THE Division 1B National Camogie League kicks off this weekend and the all-Ulster derby of Down against Antrim is a fixture that immediately jumps off the page as both sides will be keen to get off to a good start.

It’s a repeat of last year’s league opener, played in Portglenone, which the Saffron’s won with ease as Caitrin Dobbin (2), Roisin McCormack, Niamh Cosgrove and substitute Fionnuala Kelly all hit the net in the comfortable 5-14 to 0-14 victory.

Down did gain their revenge in May of last year, three months on from their Division 1B league meeting, when the two teams clashed in the Ulster final and they recaptured their provincial crown, stolen by Antrim the previous season.

While there were no green flags raised this time around, a ten-point haul from Down’s attacking ace Niamh Mallon helped the Mourne Ladies triumph by six-points in the end, 0-15 to 0-9.

Mallon has since departed Paul Donnelly’s squad and the former captain has joined up with the Galway panel, as she works in the county. While her exit can’t really be disputed, her absence will be sorely felt this season.

Half-forward Lauren Clarke, another scorer from last season’s Ulster final showdown with the Saffrons, is off to Australia while long-serving goalkeeper Catherine McGourty has stepped into retirement.

Dearbhla Magee, a Gaelic Life All-Star recipient for her performances with Liatroim last season when they reached the Ulster final, has replaced Mallon as the team captain for the year ahead while Rhea Smyth and Beth Fitzpatrick are joint vice-captains.

There has been a bit of turmoil in the Antrim camp since before Christmas when then manager Elaine Dowds was replaced at the helm by Brian Kearney and Mark McFadden, who had been in charge of the seconds team.

The duo led the seconds team to All-Ireland Junior title at the first time of asking, with Dervla Cosgrove’s impressive scoring power of 4-4 leading to a six-point victory over Armagh in 2022.

Last season the senior side, led by Dowds, reached the last eight of the Senior All-Ireland Championship for the first time in over 40 years but suffered a heavy 3-23 to 0-6 defeat to Tipperary while they just missed out on a place in the Division 1B league final as well.

Many of the players expressed their disappointment with the dismissal of Dowds, who was part of the Antrim management team along with Paul McKillen and Jim McKernan that won the 2021 All-Ireland Intermediate title, via social media.

They’ll hope it doesn’t impact their league campaign, where they’ll also face last year’s beaten league finalists Wexford along with 2023 Division 2B winners Kerry.

Down are at home this Sunday and will also hold home advantage against Wexford in the final game while they have to travel to Limerick in round two. Antrim are on the road this Sunday and against Wexford before hosting Kerry in the final group game.

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