Louth v Antrim – semi-final preview. Bishop expecting a ferocious battle.

Star forward Lauren Boyle is in a race against time to be for Saturday afternoon’s All Ireland semi-final clash with Antrim in Clones.

Lauren Boyle in action for Louth in April’s league semi-final

Despite missing her club’s championship quarter final win over Stabannon due to a serious leg injury, Darren Bishop is hoping the teenage Cooley sensation could return to the side for this crucial match. Speaking to the Dundalk Democrat early in the week,  the Louth manager observed; “The signs would seem positive, two weeks ago I wouldn’t have thought she would have been anywhere near it, but she is made of very strong stuff and I’ve been very impressed with the physio Laura (Grills), she’s been fantastic. Please God Lauren will take to the pitch this week and then we’ll know better, but it’s going to be a matter whether she’s match fit,and if the physio think’s she is match fit. We’re not really sure at the moment she gets the go ahead, I’m not going to force her.”

When these counties met in the league semi final in April, Louth seemed home and hosed as they led by four points deep into injury time but a late Saffron rally which yielded 1:1 meant extra time would be needed. Antrim dominated from the restart to record a 2:20 to 2:14 victory and book a place in the decider where they lost narrowly to Fermanagh.

Darren Bishop has been impressed with with the work his counterpart has done with the northern side;
“Seán O’Kane (Antrim manager), he’s put a serious effort into Antrim this year. I spoke to him after the league semi-final and he said he’s really trying to turn it around,” Bishop added.

Darren Bishop

“He’s got the support of some of the very strong clubs, which is fantastic, and again he’s got some players back in. The two Magee sisters are back; they’re a massive addition. They’ve probably changed from the league. They’ve definitely upped their game. We’ve tried to up ours and I think it’s going to be a ferocious battle.”

The Saffrons have had a three week break since their final group match against Fermanagh but the players themselves haven’t been taking it easy by any matter of means as they have been busy playing for their clubs in the county championships and while O’Kane is understanding on one level, he doesn’t get why the club season has to be wrapped up so early with with St.Galls playing St.Pauls on Saturday week.

In an interview with Gaelic Life, O’Kane said; “We have a full panel to pick from, which is great, but it’s been difficult because of holidays and the club championships. We haven’t been able to train and I don’t understand why there’s such a rush to get the club Championship over and done with. It just seems to be the way things are done in Antrim but some of my players could be done playing football for the year very shortly and I don’t really get it. We  were fortunate enough to beat Louth in the semi final of the league to be honest and I imagine they’ll be favourites. We still have every chance. Louth only beat London by one point in the group stages though London are a fine team.”

Kate Flood makes a spectacular catch in the league semi-final

Orlaith Kirk believes that the outcome of Saturday’s game could be decided by the respective forward lines. The former Naomh Malachi star who represented the Wee County between 1993 and 2010 told the Dundalk Democrat, “I think it’ll be a great game and will be won by the forwards. Both teams are set up quite similar in the full forward line, two pacey corner forwards and maybe more of a traditional ball-winner at at full forward, so it could come down to the battle around midfield. Antrim have great athleticism in that area as do Louth and whoever takes their chances, because I see it being a high scoring game, both forward lines are set up quite to take scores quite convincingly.”

Kirk an All Ireland winner with Louth in both 1998 and ’99 believes the Magee sisters Emma and Michelle as well as Lara Dahunsi and Cathy Carey will need to be closely watched.

“Antrim can start very fast and it will be key for Louth not to give them a fast start. They need to cut down space in the Antrim’s full forward line and prevent good delivery of the ball. If Emma Magee is at full forward she will win possession and lay it off to Mairead Cooper and whoever else is at corner forward. Louth need to be very disciplined in defence and not give away free’s because Cathy Carey will convert them. The winning of it may be to outwork Antrm around the middle. Against London we were maybe slow to get the ball forward and bringing into contact. Antrim will eat that up. Whereas if we can get them on the backfoot, I don’t think their full back line can compete with our forwards”.

Louth have a very good record against the Saffrons and beat them convincingly in last year’s championship. They will be well aware of the considerable threat Antrim will pose after the league semi final defeat at the same venue in April so complacency will not be an issue for Darren Bishop’s troops. It took extra time to separate these sides on the last occasion and another close contest is anticipated.

Preview by Dermot Woods | Photos by Warren Matthews