FOOTBALL: TG4 All-Ireland Junior Final (Antrim vs Fermanagh – Preview/Team News)
11.45am – TG4 All-Ireland Junior Championship Final – Antrim v Fermanagh – Live on TG4 (Cathy Carey of Antrim and Molly McGloin of Fermanagh at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile)
ANTRIM were left heartbroken by last September’s TG4 All-Ireland Junior Final defeat to Wicklow.
The Saffrons were outgunned on the scoreboard but they’ll rue a first half display that saw them 0-3 to 0-10 adrift at half-time.
Antrim had given themselves too much to do and while their second half display was spirited, it was in vain as Wicklow lifted the West County Hotel Cup.
It’s not often in sport that opportunities to right wrongs present themselves so quickly but Antrim’s chance has arrived on Sunday.
They face Fermanagh in a first all-Ulster TG4 All-Ireland Junior Final since 2017 – when Fermanagh tasted victory after a replay against Derry.
This will be the fourth time this year that Antrim and Fermanagh have met in a competitive fixture – with the score currently 2-1 in Antrim’s favour.
Fermanagh were victors in Division 4 of the Lidl National League but Antrim won twice when the sides met in the Ulster Championship.
On paper, there’s little to separate them and the motivation for both is great.
Antrim will want to erase the memories of the 2021 Final while Fermanagh, champions last in 2020, will look to claim a second Junior crown in three seasons.
Relegation from the Intermediate grade in 2021 was a setback for the Erne County but manager James Daly, despite a number of early-season defections, has steadied the ship and Fermanagh are potentially just an hour away from making the step up again.
In terms of overall progression and where these two counties want to go, promotion is a key target.
Antrim and Fermanagh will both feel they’re capable of making an impact in the Intermediate grade but to do that, they have to get there first.
An Ulster derby will bring added spice to Croke Park today and while Daly boasts so much inter-county experience as a manager, Antrim have shrewd operators on the touchline also.
In manager Emma Kelly, and coach Kyla Trainor (Down), Antrim have players who won All-Ireland medals as players.
Curiously, both counties go in search of a third TG4 All-Ireland Junior title on Sunday.
Antrim were winners previously in 2012 and 2009, while Fermanagh won the crown in 2020 and 2017.
In the TG4 All-Ireland Junior Championship’s leading scorer, Eimear Smyth, Fermanagh have a player with 4-17 to her name.
Fermanagh will look to her scoring prowess again but Blaithin Bogue (2-4) and Laura Grew (3-0) are among the other players who have contributed to the cause.
For Antrim, Maria O’Neill is their leading scorer with 5-3 but Orlaith Prenter (1-12), Grainne McLaughlin (0-9), captain Cathy Carey (0-8) and Lara Dahunsi (1-5) have also been in good form.
McLaughlin, with 1-5, was a force of nature in defeat for Antrim against Wicklow last year and she’ll hope for another big game display but there’s a feeling now that there are more players around her capable of delivering, too.
Having come through their respective groups, Fermanagh turned up the heat with a 7-9 to 3-12 semi-final victory over Limerick. Smyth was on fire in that game, notching 3-7 as Fermanagh advanced to another final.
On the other side of the draw, Antrim were taking care of business against Carlow, running out comprehensive 3-18 to 0-13 winners.
And so, it now boils down to two teams who know each other so well.
Familiarity may not exactly breed contempt but where Antrim and Fermanagh are concerned, it breeds a healthy rivalry and respect for each other.
Both know where the opposition can hurt them but, equally, they also know where and how they can strike at the opposite end of the pitch. A fascinating battle lies in store – and you couldn’t rule out the prospect of a replay here.
Fermanagh are unchanged for this one, as Antrim bring in Sarah O’Neill for Megan McGarry in defence.
Antrim (v Fermanagh): A McCann; D Coleman, A McFarland, N McIntosh; M Mulholland, S Tennyson, S O’Neill; L Dahunsi, Á Tubridy; C Taggart, C Carey (capt.), M O’Neill; B Devlin, O Prenter, G McLaughlin.
Fermanagh (v Antrim): R Gleeson; E Keenan, M McGloin (capt.), S McQuade; N McManus, S McCarville, C Bogue; B Bannon, A O’Brien; E Maguire, B Bogue, S Britton; C McElroy, E Smyth, L Grew.