By Kieran Lynch
ANTRIM camogs will be looking to get over their recent heartbreak in the Division Two League final, when they take on Down in this weekend’s Ulster final, says manager Elaine Dowds.
Antrim enjoyed a tremendous league campaign up until their 3-12 to 0-14 defeat against Wexford in the Croke Park final three weeks ago, as they had stormed through Kerry, Galway, Laois and Cork to reach the decider.
However, it wasn’t their day against the yellowbellies.
“It was a weird league campaign where we got a few very easy games and chalked up some big score-lines,” said Dowds.
“Maybe that lack of being challenged sufficiently allowed us to develop a little bit of complacency, and we got caught very badly then in Croke Park against Wexford. They were a super team, very organised, fit and physical and it took us 15 minutes to adapt to that level; but by that stage it was pretty much too late to try to make a comeback, against a team of that quality.
“This is why we really needed to win Division Two – not for a piece of silverware, but to get into Division One next year where we would have really top-quality league games, week in, week out.”
Having won the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship last year, and of course returning to HQ for the recent league final, Antrim have big game experience, which could stand them in good stead this weekend. However, Dowds says her team still need to keep calm and not let nerves take over.
“I think the Wexford game is a prime example of us not keeping our nerves calm on the big day,” she said
“The girls were disappointed with the way they played but they are very resilient and very quickly able to put the game in perspective. We’ve looked at some of the things which went wrong on the day and have tried to address them in training, but we’ve also focused on the positive aspects of the day, and we’ve tried to build on those also.
“The experience of the Wexford game will hopefully stand to us, and we’ll go out against Down and play from the start. Again though, we’ve talked this through as a group, some of the girls do get very nervous but they have developed strategies over the last year to help deal with big games.”
Up next for Antrim is their neighbours Down, a team who Dowds is predicting will give their all in a physical clash on Saturday.
“Typical Down,” said Dowds, when asked what she’s expecting this weekend.
“They’re strong and physical but good in the tackle and their running game is very good. There’s no way they’ll want to lose to Antrim so they’ll be throwing everything at it – just like we will.
“What I need from Saturday’s game is a really good team performance. That’s important to us in terms of putting Wexford firmly behind us and setting the right tone for the Championship period that lies ahead in the next couple of months.
It’s very difficult to get challenge games at this level so any opportunity we get to play a Division One team, we have to take and make the most of. So, Saturday’s game is pretty important in relation to preparing for the Senior Championship.”