Promotion is a must insists Antrim ladies boss

By Michael McMullan

THE target for Antrim ladies footballers is simple – they must get out of Division Four.

That’s the only way they can progress insists manager Emma Kelly, now in her second year in charge.

Kelly is a native of Desertmartin in county Derry, but won an All-Ireland with her adopted county and steered the Saffrons back to the final last season where the lost to Wicklow.

“We have never got out of Division Four this is our goal,” Kelly stated.

“Once you get out of Division Four, you are playing better teams.

“Then you can get out of Junior (championship) where you are playing better teams and bringing yourself on.”

Antrim were 2-16 to 1-8 winners over Derry in last Sunday’s league opener thanks to goals from Lara Dahunsi and Orlaith Prenter.

They travel to Fermanagh this weekend knowing that a win would see them almost certainly in the league semi-final before they even take on Leitrim in their last group game.

Offaly and Limerick have set the early pace in the other section,
but Kelly doesn’t read into other team’s results against each other, it’s all about focusing on your own game.

“Antrim have the players to do it,” she said about their promotion hopes, adding how they need that belief and to stay clear of serious injuries.

“It’s just getting everything clicking at the same time. It’s the first step of our ladder complete, but we need to keep moving up the ladder and have nothing put in our way to move us backwards. It is in our hands to keep battling away and going at it.”

Kelly stepped into the role last year, with former Down star Kyla Trainor as her assistant, and they have added another former Mourne player, Roisin Torney, as their strength and conditioning coach.

There has been a big turnaround of players with “10 or 12” newcomers this season.

Antrim were missing six starters last weekend, including twins Caitlin and Aoife Taggart who are still recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident on the way to training last season.

Bronagh Devlin was listed to start against Derry, but a back injury ruled her out and Orla Corr was due back in training this week after an ankle injury.

Kelly won’t be able to call on Ciara Brown until June, but having Dahunsi back in the fold is an addition that will add to the mix when the pieces come together later in the season.

“They are best friends and I’d be winding her up that’s she’s keeping Ciara’s jersey warm,” Kelly joked.

“Grainne (McLaughlin) had a bit of fire in her belly again. Aine
Tubs (Tubridy) is playing the best football she has played in a long time and Saoirse Tennyson is playing well.”

Antrim handed out four debuts on Sunday. Emma Louise McAreavey of Moneyglass started at corner-back with Glenravel trio Molly Woulahan, Clare Emerson and Maeve Mulholland also seeing action for the first time.

Kelly has stressed the importance of competition for places and is hoping to add more players from the minor ranks to add freshness and keep their promotion challenge competitive in terms of making girls earn their spot on the matchday panel of 30 players.

“There is not one person who can say their spot is definite,” she insisted. “It was the same last year. Everyone has to be kept on their toes and the intensity needs to be brought up.”

Antrim kicked 14 wides against Derry including five before they managed to raise a white flag. Furnished with footage of the game and a breakdown of the stats, the Antrim squad were given a target by the management.

“Everybody has to improve by at least one per cent,” Kelly stressed. “They will all add up and hopefully we’ll step up and get better as it goes on.

“It’s (the win over Derry) only the first game of the league. A lot of things can go right and a lot of things can go wrong, but we need to push forward in the right direction. If we win this (Fermanagh game), we’ll have one foot in the semi-final, depending on other results.”

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