Down head into the business end of the season on Saturday as they face Kildare in the Liberty Insurance Premier Junior Championship in Ashbourne. Down have unfortunately fallen at the final hurdle in the last two years at Croke Park but Karen Tinnelly hopes that her team can overcome Kildare on Saturday to make amends for the defeats of 2011 and 2012.
Down haven’t had the most consistent year so far following a disappointing National League however a victory over rivals Antrim in the NWP Ulster Championship showed signs of the potential of this Down team. Unfortunately Down were overran by Derry in the Ulster Final and the girls have regrouped for what is their main focus for 2013- to secure that Premier Junior title.
‘We have unfinished business at Croke Park and are eager to get back there as there is a number of girls who have played in the last couple of finals however at present we are not looking past Kildare and we need to be ready for this game on Saturday. We are totally focused on Kildare and only if we manage to win would we turn any thoughts to the All-Ireland Final’ said Tinnelly.
In the group games Down were defeated by Kildare but the Ulster side will be vastly different from the one that played when they met over a month ago according to Karen. ‘We’ve won a couple of our games but lost to Kildare and Laois although we haven’t had a full squad all year due to injuries and other things. Against Kildare we will have the strongest squad we have had all year which will give our manager Alistair McGilligan plenty of options. We have a good mix of experienced players along with some new younger members of the panel who have freshened things up.
Down teams over the last couple of years have been built on strong defences and this year with options limited up front they have found it difficult to get scores. This Saturday should see the return of Niamh Mallon who at 18 already has two Soaring Stars to her name following a cruciate injury. The Portaferry ace has worked hard on rehabilitating this injury to get back for the knock out stages of the Premier Junior Championship. ‘Niamh has been with us all year working hard in the background but has been unable to play. In the last few weeks she has played a couple of club games and it is a massive boost to the squad. Sara Louise Carr has also got over a hamstring injury so those pair will massively strengthen our attack’.
As you would expect things have raised a gear in training and Karen hopes the performance gets them to the All-Ireland Final on September 15th. ‘Our management have worked hard on the tactical side of things and with Sara Louise and Niamh back in action we have the skill in the team, it’s just now up to the players to perform’.
Down face Kildare at 3.15pm in Ashbourne on Saturday in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Semi-Final