Antrim Minor Ladies came up short today as they hosted a feisty Armagh team, determined to make amends for the heavy defeat that they experienced at the hands of the Saffs in last year’s U16s competition.
by Philip Doyle
This county squad have struggled to find their feet in the last couple of friendlies as they struggle with injuries and the depletion of players who are currently shoring up the ranks of the Antrim seniors.
From the first whistle, Armagh seemed the hungrier of the two teams and the Antrim back line struggled to keep pace with the direct running of the Armagh forwards who struck several unanswered points with an assurance that highlighted their intent for the game ahead.
As has been the case with the Antrim girls in the past, it took a good 10 minutes for them to waken up to the pace of the game with a lot of nervous handling and wasted ball in front of goal. Unusually, the hallmark of this Antrim squad in exploiting teams with their pace and width was missing today as foray after foray went down the centre of the park. Armagh simply crowded out the midline and stifled any creativity that might have been building and hit us on the counter.
The solidity that players such as Maria Hanna and Emma Louise McAreavey bring to the defensive line was lacking with the absence of both through injury and Antrim relied on the experienced head of Ciara Larkin to keep things from running away.
As the half progressed, Antrim started to find their feet and range, with some excellent scores from Nicole Jones and St Brigid’s’ Emma Ferran, but despite Antrim edging a two point lead as the break beckoned, it was never comfortable or convincing.
Both teams traded point for point but Armagh continued to build the pressure and with the help of some tireless running and strong defending from St Brigid’s’ recently crowned Ulster Colleges’ All Star and captain Maeve Blaney, Antrim just kept themselves in the game.
Post half-time team talk (and I’m sure it was an interesting one!), the start of the second half saw a more disciplined and organised Antrim take to the pitch and they appeared to gather a bit of momentum, but some sloppy handling and panicked clearances let Armagh in to score two goals in quick succession. They piled on the pressure and holes began to appear across the park as home heads dropped. After that there was only likely ever to be one winner as legs tired and belief faltered.
A well-taken goal from full forward Rebecca Doyle saw her sidestep the ‘keeper and offer a glimmer of hope in the closing stages but Armagh never let the tempo drop and in the last few minutes, they raced into an unassailable lead which saw them run out comfortable winners on a scoreline of 2-11 to 5-12.
Thanks to Fionnuala Murphy for officiating.
The battle starts for real in two weeks time as Antrim open at home against Cavan (March 10th) whose 16s pipped us to the A Championship last year followed by a visit to Tyrone (March 24th), and a final home match against Donegal (April 7th). We never seem to get it easy! But hopefully things can kick on from here and we can return quickly to the playing style and belief that took the bones of this county squad so far last year.
Well done to all the St Brigid’s girls who were on show today. There were good displays from Maeve, Sorcha and Catriona, and kudos go to Emma and Rebecca for bagging the goals for the county!