They had a good run through a curtailed All-Ireland Intermediate championship last autumn, but came a bit unstuck in the final against Down at Kingspan Breffni. The scoreline indicated a clear win for Down, but when you examined the recording of the game Antrim were well in contention until a couple of mistakes opened a gap.
When they met Down in the first league game three weeks ago in Portglenone, they showed there is little between the sides, and Caitrin Dobbin’s excellent goal sealed a deserved win
Dobbin also goaled last week against Derry in a much more confident performance from the Saffrons. This time the team’s movement and positional play created a lot more goal chances than in their previous games and they were more emphatic winners than the final score-line indicated.
However, their hopes of further progress in the knock-out stages of the league were dealt a blow earlier this week when experienced full-back Chloe Drain attended A&E to discover that she had sustained a broken jaw in Saturday’s game in Owenbeg.
That means the Dunloy player will be out for a number of weeks, extending possibly into the start of the championship in late July and it will be difficult to replace the ever-present on the edge of the square.
However, the additions to the team from the All-Ireland final have shown well. Cáitríona Graham has been brave in goals and her deliveries accurate, while Maria Lynn at corner-back hasn’t allowed much past.
Meanwhile, Anna Connolly’s positional play and energy at centre-forward has added a different dimension and she has been involved in the goal against Down and a couple against Derry.
There is also a welcome return to form for Róisín McCormick. A huge star at underage and schools’ level, the Loughgiel forward didn’t quite get going in last year’s championship. The fast ground and better supply of the sliotar has brought more out of her – as it has done with the other Loughgiel corner-forward Caitrín Dobbin.
Galway though are an unknown quantity. There are several of the Sarsfield’s All-Ireland winning club side on show and a few younger players looking to catch Cathal Moore’s attention ahead of the announcement of the senior championship panel.
They got off to a poor start in the league and lost to Kerry in Lixnaw. At the weekend a surprise win over a Cork side that had already qualified for the quarter-finals was enough to edge them through on score-difference.
Antrim are in great form at the minute and have passed their tests to date. I think this game will be more like the Down game in that there will not be as much room as they got at half-forward and midfield against Derry.
It also will be a full-on battle to the final whistle. But Antrim can make it into the semi-finals with a few points to spare.