McConville believes Saffron gathering momentum, but they face a mammoth task

TG4 All-Ireland Junior Football semi-final

Antrim v Wicklow (Ashbourne, County Meath – 1pm throw-in)

By Kevin Herron

Antrim ladies manager Dee McConville believes his side are gathering momentum but is unsure it will be enough to trouble favourites Wicklow as the sides meet in Sundays TG4 All-Ireland semi-final in Ashbourne, County Meath (1pm throw-in).

The Saffrons’ recovered from an opening day defeat to Limerick with a win against Derry last time out and despite preparations for the All-Ireland initially being slow- McConville is happy with how his side have progressed.

“Just before the Limerick game we started to get a full selection of girls available for us” McConville revealed.

“Before that we were only starting to find our feet, girls were locked up with Ulster club championship and it wasn’t until around the 9th of October that the club championship was halted. That freed us up to get a bit of momentum and get the girls together and get bigger and better training sessions going. Since then we started to make a wee bit of progress”.

“The match against Limerick on the 1st of November was our first game since mid-March so it wasn’t ideal and obviously Limerick are a good side. We kicked on going into the Derry game, we started slow and we then found our momentum towards the end of the first-half and carried it into the second-half. There was a wee spell in the second-half when Derry came back at us but I thought our resilience in the back-line was excellent”.

Antrim manager Damien McConville

“As far as our preparations are concerned, I think we’ve been gathering momentum. I’m not sure we’ve had enough time to gather enough momentum against a team like Wicklow- who have been playing Division Three football all year. It is what it is, everybody is under the same regulations and issues and concerns as us so we can’t really be complaining”.

Sundays opponents Wicklow had a solid league campaign claiming a win and three draws from their five games before lockdown and claimed a comprehensive league semi-final win when the sides last clashed two years ago.

McConville is under no illusions that a tough encounter lays in store but is refusing to rule out the possibility of an upset.

“Wicklow had five league games and only lost one, which means that they’re competing at that level confidently” believes the Saffrons’ boss.

“We’d four games and lost them all- just shows you the opposition we’re up against. The last time we met Wicklow was in the League semi-final in 2018 down in Iniskeen and they beat us 7-13-0-08 – it was a bit of a drubbing as far as that’s concerned. All we can do is do our best in the present circumstances, I genuinely believe we’ve made progress and the girls are buzzing at this stage and looking forward to Sunday. Championship is Championship and if you work hard on the day you can get yourself across the line”.

Reflecting on his first full season in charge McConville believes his side have come a long way since January and is very much building for the future with some talented players to come into the senior reckoning in the near future.

“We’ve come a long way since the start of the year” McConville acknowledges.

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Aoife Taggart

“We started off with a panel of 22 or 23 players, there were a lot of girls who had other commitments and couldn’t really commit. Then we had the lockdown for 6 months and we were coming towards the end and I started to contact more girls to try and get them on board. We got a bit more buy-in from players and had a few girls coming back from injury”.

“As far as we are concerned we hit the reset button when we came back in, in September- even thought we were impacted by Ulster club championship. We managed to keep those girls on board and we’ve started to gather a bit of momentum but I’m not sure we’ve had enough time to get us up to a level where Wicklow are at”.

“For us this year, at the start of the year we always knew there was going to be a lot of work involved- not just on the pitch but off it too. We wanted to try and create a wee bit of consistency; I think I’m the fifth manager in the last four years so we have to build trust and respect with players again. It was back to square one and we’re hoping to build on that. I’ve a good working relationship with a lot of the underage players that would have played for the 14s, 16s and minors and there’s a few of them coming through. We’re starting to build for the future, it was never going to be a one-year thing”.

Aine Turbidy

“Saoirse Tennyson has been about for what seems like forever and a day but she’s still young and there’s a good few years in her yet along with others like Aine [Tubridy] and Meabh [McCurdy] etc. you’ve the likes of Ciara Brown who is coming through and is just out of minor, the Taggart twins [Aoife and Caitlin], Orla Corr, Niamh Enright and Lara Dahunsi. There’s a great nucleus of players who are only out of minor or who are still in minor – Ellen Morgan is an example. There is a great talent coming through, I still know girls playing minor and U-16 and we still have that to look forward to as well”.

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