Saffrons ready for Cats

All-Ireland Senior Camogie
Championship Round Three

Antrim v Kilkenny

Saturday, Dunloy, 2pm

By Michael McMullan

NO matter how swimmingly a sporting campaign appears to be cruising along, there is nothing quite like a reality check to reset the focus.

Just ask Antrim camogs who take an unbeaten championship run into the visit of Kilkenny on Saturday.

After easing their way through this season’s league, Antrim were hit for three goals as Wexford reeled away with the cup on final day in Croke Park.

Headquarters has been an otherwise happy hunting ground for the McNaughton family. Last weekend, James McNaughton was among the goals as Antrim clinched a second McDonagh Cup in three seasons and his sister Lucia captained the winning Saffrons’ side on Intermediate All-Ireland final day last season.

“We ended last year really well, it was the best we could’ve hoped for,” said Lucia, who was selected on the 2021 Gaelic Life Camogie Team of the Year.

The turn of the year brought an anticipation of how they’d cope with Senior Championship camogie.

After a comfortable passage in Division Two, Antrim ended up in the final where a disappointing defeat took them back down to earth before the championship.

“In hindsight, it was maybe a good thing to show us what senior camogie is really about as Wexford are up in senior,” McNaughton said of that game.

“We had a good win in the Ulster (Championship) and now we are in the All-Ireland Championship.

“We have had lots of good hard matches this year; we are hoping that in the next three matches we will learn a lot from them, starting with Kilkenny on Saturday.

“If we had won (against Wexford) we’d have learned, but I think you learn more in defeat. You will look back on it to see what you could do better.”

The senior grade demands a greater degree of cuteness and getting the eye in on a faster ball at a more intense level.

The focus was to follow in Down’s footsteps of last season and maintaining their status at the highest level and their comprehensive win over Offaly gave them the best possible start.

“I think we surprised ourselves,” McNaughton admitted of their 4-18 to 1-10 win in Birr.

“We went out with the shackles off, we didn’t know what to expect from ourselves or the game and got a really good performance.”

The Down game was a typical Ulster derby with both teams knowing each other inside out and a 1-12 each draw typifying how little there is to choose between them.

Next up is Kilkenny as Antrim aim to keep moving up the ladder, but they know exactly what to expect.

“We’ll try and get our heads down and try to get ourselves off to the best start possible, that’s what we’ll be aiming for,” she said.

“We are playing against the cream of the crop and we are very excited because that’s where we want to be.

“It is going to be extremely tough, but you are not going to get better unless you are up there competing with them.

“We are not there to fulfil fixtures, we are there to get performances and are looking forward to it.”

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