Tom Maher/INPHO Antrim ladies football manager Emma Kelly.
# Saffron
Antrim looking to 2023 already after ending 10-year wait for All-Ireland junior title
‘Division Four will be our target now. Trials start in November and that’s it.’

ANTRIM MANAGER EMMA Kelly is already looking to 2023 after leading the Saffron county to their first All-Ireland junior title in 10 years.

Antrim were 3-15 to 0-11 winners over Fermanagh in Saturday’s final replay at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh, and Kelly was delighted with the well-earned victory.

A Player of the Match performance and 2-1 tally from experienced captain Cathy Carey stole the headlines, while Lara Dahunsi’s early long-range goal and 0-8 — 0-3 from frees, the rest from play — courtesy of Gráinne McLaughlin were also key, but Kelly praised each and every one of the 20 players that took to the field for her champions afterwards.

“The team performance there was all-round,” she said. “Nobody had to lift it and drive as they all stepped up to the plate.

“If one person went quiet the other stepped up so it was a good team performance and it was a pity we couldn’t get more subs.

“The first goal was a deflection or a slip but made our girls think the luck might be on our side and we could kick on.”

32-year-old Carey was appearing in her sixth All-Ireland junior final, winning two in 2009 and 2012 and losing two in 2017 and 2019, before the first edition of the 2022 showdown in Croke Park two weeks ago against familiar foes.

Determined not to rest on their laurels, next season has already moved into view for the new West County Hotel Cup holders.

“Division Four will be our target now,” Kelly added, as they move into the intermediate championship.

“Trials start in November and that’s it. We have good minors stepping out now and they will be looking to push on to senior so next year’s squad could be completely different. That’s a good thing as it pushes the rest and makes the whole team better.”

Fermanagh manager James Daly admitted his side “couldn’t get to grips with their counter-attack,” 2-5 to 0-6 down at the break, but was keen to focus on the bigger picture after a largely successful 2022.

It’s back to the drawing board after their third final in four years — winners in 2020 after a 2019 defeat. They also triumphed in 2017 after a replay.

“It’s all positive,” Daly said. “When I took the job in October/November, people laughed and asked, ‘Why you taking that team, half the girls don’t want to play?’

“And we got it together. We played our first league game and were beaten by 21 points. But we got to grips with it. We looked at who we had, we pulled a few more girls in, we regrouped and saw what we could do. And we will do the same next year, we will get more girls in next year.

“I feel we are a year ahead of the cycle here. I could count 10 or 11 players who should be on this panel but they aren’t. And we got to an All-Ireland final and lost in a replay, so there are a lot of positives to build on.” 

- Additional reporting by David Mohan for Ladies Gaelic football.

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