Previews of next Saturday's county finals
Fire Stop and Seal Antrim Senior camogie championship final
Saturday, 2.30pm in Cushendall
Loughgiel v Ballycastle
It’s fair to say that many people, on league performances, expected to see these two teams in the Fire Stop and Seal Antrim Senior camogie championship final.
Certainly no-one would have been betting against the holders Loughgiel who are bidding for a fourth successive county title and a 20th in total, especially as they had a bye into the semi-final and had to then play a Cushendall team that were rank-outsiders.
It was never going to be as easy for Ballycastle and so it proved with two close encounters, both of which they survived with just a point to spare.
For periods in both games, Ballycastle struggled to covert what seemed to be territorial advantage into scores. Against Dunloy, they were under plenty of pressure throughout the game – but had they converted the frees awarded, they would not have been depending on a very late goal from Niamh O’Neill to steal a 2-7 to 0-12 win.
In the semi-final a fortnight ago in Glenravel, they made heavy weather of the Portglenone challenge, again not putting their opponents away when they had the upper hand in general play.
They generally controlled most of the opening half, yet conceded 1-2 directly from frees in a three minute spell to go 1-6 to 1-3 behind.
Nevertheless they showed the ability to recover well and edged ahead 1-7 to 1-6 at the break, but in injury time at the end conceded another goal to leave only a single point in the game. They certainly seem to like living on the edge.
While their defence is pretty solid, those players do have a tendency to concede silly frees and bring pressure on themselves.
On the positive side, seven of the team that earlier in the year won the Antrim minor title started the semi-final and that could well rise with the availability once more of Maeve Kelly who was featuring in an All-Ireland under 16 final replay with Antrim on the same day that the semi-finals took place. Maeve had played in the opening game against Dunloy.
With so many young players, no matter how accomplished they are, leadership needs to come from the older players and the likes of Niamh Donnelly at midfield, Emma Connor and Orla Donnelly in defence and Kathryn Donnelly up front provided it.
Rhona Donnelly also picked up a lot of ball at the back of midfield in the semi-final and used it intelligently.
Loughgiel sprang a mild surprise in the semi-final by leaving Racquel McCarry on the bench – although they were never really going to be in a situation against Cushendall that they needed to show their strongest hand.
At times against Cushendall, they looked a little flat – a strange statement to make when they won by 3-17 to 0-1 – but for a long time, only Aisling McFadden seemed capable of providing the scores up front from their abundance of possession.
I would expect that at least two forwards from the Intermediate team (who play in the first game of the day in Cushendall) Roisin McCormick and Charley McCarry could also be pushing for inclusion in the senior outfit and therefore spots in the forward line are up for grabs. In other words, I would expect to see the forwards a lot sharper against Ballycastle.
Ballycastle’s defence though is fairly tight-marking and, as long as they are disciplined in the tackle, they could cope quite well.
Overall however the Shamrocks look to be well ahead of the bunch in Antrim yet again and no-one really expects them to lose this final.
Interest will lie in how Ballycastle cope in the final – certainly the tag of underdog will suit them – but all 15 will need to produce their individual and collective best games to even have a chance of knocking the Shamrocks out of their stride.
This is only the Castle’s second ever senior final. They lost two years ago in Armoy by 4-11 to 0-3 and an improvement on that might well be a more realistic target than actually dethroning the champions
Darragh’s Joinery Antrim Intermediate final
Saturday 1pm in Cushendall
Brídíní Óga Glenravel v Loughgiel
It was widely expected at the start of the championship that these two teams would contest the Darragh’s Joinery Antrim Intermediate final; Loughgiel are perennial finalists and the team to beat at this level for the past half dozen years while Brídíní Óga have shown at under-age level over the past few seasons that they are a club on the up.
Last year the Glenravel girls were clear favourites in the Junior championship and they took their chances well to not only claim the county title but then gallop through Ulster to collect the Bridie McMenamin Shield.
This year they took a bold step to enter Division 1 and probably knew that they would suffer heavy defeats with the overall aim of speeding up their game.
However the heavy defeats seemed to sap their morale significantly, but they seem to have regained some of that with wins over Tir na nÓg and Cargin in the intermediate championship after both south west sides had finished 2ndand 3rd to the Shamrocks in Division 2 of the league.
They didn’t play with the fluency of last year in either game, but neither did they look in real danger of losing – although it took two goals in the 55th minute to sign Cargin off!
They have not added to last year’s squad in terms of younger players coming through and rely heavily on members of the team that ran Loughgiel close in the Under 16A final three seasons ago – including Laoise McKenna, Ellen Hynds, Kirsten and Torie Edgar, Sian McNeill, Kirsty Laverty and Aine Duffin.
Loughgiel have really impressed in their two games to the final with facile wins over both Creggan and Ballycastle, two teams that were in the bottom half of Division 2.
They were also in the enviable position of fielding with quite a few players who have had first team experience – although they subsequently lost Finvola McVeigh and Lucia McNaughton, both of whom played in the Senior championship semi-final against Cushendall.
So strong are the Shamrocks in terms of playing numbers that they will be able to bring in two more experienced championship performers to replace them and still retain the scoring threat of Roisin McCormick and Charley McCarry in front of goals – this pair scored 7-12 between them in the slaughter of Ballycastle in the semi-final.
In comparison to the 2016 final, Loughgiel look a lot stronger while Brídíní Óga on paper certainly look as strong as last year’s champions St John’s. That should make for a really good game.
However the Glenravel girls will need to play with more conviction than they showed in their two previous games if they are to upset a team with a 100% success rate in 2017.