It’s going to be tough but Humpy is looking forward to the restart

“WE WERE probably not looking to be playing Down again this quickly,” jokes Antrim camogie joint-manager Paul McKillen after the teams that met in last December’s All-Ireland Intermediate final have been drawn together in the National League Division Two opener next month.

“It is going to be very difficult to get out of our group as well!

“I can understand the rationale of placing teams in geographical groupings especially given the current situation where team travel on buses is not an option. But we have landed in a real dog-fight in our group, haven’t we?”

Down, Derry and Antrim have been placed in one of the four groups in Division Two with two teams progressing to the quarter-finals at the start of June. The third placed team will go into a relegation semi-final.

“We are almost in a championship format because the National Leagues have been trimmed back to fit in a tight time-frame. It will be pretty difficult getting one of those two quarter-final spots.

“I would say the two teams coming out of our group will do well in the knock-out stages – even with the second teams from the senior counties in contention.”

However the former All-star hurler says that the management team of Jim McKernan, Elaine Dowds and himself will be hoping to give the girls in the panel as much game time as possible in the league.

“We had a few girls playing in the league at the start of last year and they were not available when the championship came around late in the year. Three or four of those girls are back with us and the whole of the championship panel is still there – bar one who is doing exams at present. So we have a larger panel than was there for the championship.

“We changed the team almost every game during the championship run. We were seeing things at training and, if a girl was showing well at training, she got a chance the following week in the game. Sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t.

“Because of the restrictions in place we were still really only getting to know the players and we hope to continue that during the league. Places are up for grabs and players will get their chance.”

McKillen admits that he was delighted with the team last season.

“Of course we were. We played and won two league games and then went right through the championship to the final.

“Down were just that bit more experienced. They had been there before and carried that experience with them. But we were with them for 35 minutes of the final. They got a couple of breaks, we made a couple of mistakes. But overall we were delighted with the way the season went for Antrim.

“At the start of last year we were a little worried about the second teams, but we handled both Tipperary and Dublin very well in Ahoghill, playing brilliant hurling. It will be interesting to see how we fare against those teams this year.

“I would say our worst performance all year was against Laois, a team that we were expected to beat. But we still won and that shows the talent in the squad.”

Last year has created a feel-good factor around the senior inter-county squad and McKillen is keen to see the team push on this year.

Team Coach Elaine Dowds

“The run to the final last year definitely lifted spirits. But I think COVID has also made the girls realise that being with each other and playing in teams is so beneficial to their general health, to their mental health.

“We have stayed in touch over the winter doing fitness challenges and that has been good for keeping them together as a group. But nothing beats being out on a pitch on a sunny evening enjoying doing what players do best.”

“I’m sure the girls are as keen as I am to get out on the grass training and playing.”

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