Niamh Webb hoping to inspire the next generation

TG4 All-Ireland final preview

By Kevin Herron 

Niamh Webb is hoping that Antrim Ladies can help set an example and inspire the next generation of footballers in the county. 

The 19-year old Lámh Dhearg defender has been part of two Ulster Final winning sides since coming into the senior county set-up in 2019 and is excited to represent the Hannahstown side at Croke Park this weekend as the Saffrons go for their first All-Ireland win since 2012. 

“I’m really excited to represent Lámh Dhearg because I am the only girl from my club playing too” said Webb. 

“A lot of the younger people will be expecting good things from us, a lot of young kids have been around training the past couple of weeks and coming to see us and they’re very excited for us. I want to set an example for them coming through and inspire the girls throughout my club”. 

“Especially to step up and keep pushing themselves because one day they could be there too. Even if you are starting off on the bench and exceling through there. It’s a pressure to start because the trainings are high intensity and you’re always pushing yourself that extra wee step up to your limits and over”. 

Sundays final see’s the Saffrons face familiar foe in Wicklow- who sealed a place in last year’s decider with a semi-final win over Antrim and then inflicted defeat upon them in the group stage meeting a few weeks back. 

The majority of the Saffrons squad were part of last year’s panel and Webb believes that things are going from strength-to-strength, and they are capable of putting things up to Wicklow on Sunday. 

“Last year was very different to this year” insists Webb. 

“Last year there was a whole new team- there are girls here who were there last year- I think Wicklow thought that was the team that was going to step out. It’s a whole different team and a whole different management too. The management last year was just as good as well, but I think under the management this year we are going to excel even further”. 

“We’ve so much talent coming up through the ranks, I think when we played Wicklow a few weeks ago they underestimated us and beating us by five-points- I think they were surprised as well. A lot of people think they’re sitting in a better position but right now I know we can put it up to them on Sunday”.

Niamh Webb chats with Saffron Gael’s Kevin Herron at Thursday evening’s press night at Davitt’s

“It’s a new experience for everyone. There is a real big buzz around the team, we’re going down on Saturday together and we’re all really close on the team. Every club- whether you play Division 3 or Division 1- we all speak and we all get along and we all go out and socialise with each other too. I think that’s the good thing about our team because everyone steps up and there is so much competition. Even with competition there is friendships, and it works well for all of us”. 

Webb acknowledges that doubts did exist about where Antrim football was going a few years ago but is excited about the journey they are on at this moment in time.  

“I’m very excited” admits Webb. 

“You wonder if we’ll get here at the start of the year because we were going from a team that was folding a few years ago to a lot of girls coming back into the panel and two girls in Emma and Kayla coming into take us. We’ve excelled beyond our limits that we actually thought we would reach it. Now we are here it is a wee bit unimaginable for me- but I’m very excited”.

As a 12-year-old, Webb recalls being a spectator when Antrim lost the 2016 Junior final to Longford and revealed that stepping onto the hallowed turf on Jones Road will be a dream come true on Sunday morning. 

“I remember being down at the final in 2016 and I was only about 12” Webb recalls. 

“Now I’m part of the panel and it’s a dream to be honest, from watching it to being on the pitch- It will be the first time on the Croke Park pitch. Doing that will be another dream” 

Webb feels that it has been a case of taking small steps each year in their goal of reaching All-Ireland success and is impressed with the potential that has came out of the minor set-up this term.  

“We’re just taking it in steps” acknowledges Webb. 

“Right from the beginning we just developed because from coming from a team in Division 4 our whole time, we’ve stepped up and this is the first time being able to reach an All-Ireland final since 2016”. 

“We’ve come on leaps and bounds since then, we’re underdogs going into the game – but I know this team has great potential, whether people see it or not. We’re not a team that will be walked over”. 

“I see the potential coming through the team from the minors that are stepping up and they are just as capable of stepping up and playing than just being there with the team”. 

Webb pinpoints their opening TG4 All-Ireland defeat to Derry as a ‘kick up the ass’ and a turning point in their campaign and offered an insight into their approach to games since. 

“It was the kick up the ass if you want to call it that” she reflects. 

“I think it was because at that time we were getting a bit complacent with ourselves, and we thought we were sitting in a good position after winning the final two weeks before”. 

“We hadn’t been beaten and had a few bumps along the road and a few injuries here and there as well and some of us were out of position and we just didn’t have the communication on the pitch and Derry took advantage”.

“Stepping away from that coming back to training along with the sprints and intensity that we’ve picked up since then. We know that we can’t overlook anyone again- we can’t go into games thinking that no-one is an obstacle- because there are going to be obstacles whether you think it or not and you can’t get too complacent with ourselves at the end of the day”. 

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