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Ulster Champions Antrim will begin the defence of their title with a home tie against Armagh at Casement Park. The game will be a thrilling encounter with many talented players on both sides.


Antrim boast some of Ulster‘s biggest names and their young players are some of the most decorated at underage level.


Emma Connolly and Shannon Graham have three Ulster College Allstars each and Loughgeil’s Raquel McCarry is described by Antrim manager Mary Connolly as “”a very skillful player who knows how to hit the target.””


Indeed Connolly will be looking to Raquel and the rest of her young players to fill the void left by injured captain Jane Adams, something she feels they are more than capable of doing.


“”Obviously the news about Jane was a huge disappointment for everyone, thankfully it came early enough and we had time to rejig the panel. We’ve also lost another hugely influential player in Jacinta Dixon who broke her ankle but the girls know that it’s business as usual come tonight night. We can’t decide that the season is over because we don’t have certain players,”” she Mary Connolly.


For Armagh the game represents the opportunity to get their season back on track with acting manager Pasty Magee confident the his side will not be there to make up the numbers.


“”Antrim will be a huge challenge especially in their back-yard. They would be seen as the in form side, they had a good National League campaign but we’re more than up for the challenge that they pose. We’re well prepared for the game all the girls have worked really hard in training over the past couple of months off the back of what was a disappointing National League campaign.””


Most of the pre-match talk has surrounded Jane Adams and although Magee feels that Armagh has to remain focused on the task at hand he empathises with the player.


“”I don’t like to see anyone suffering injuries especially not the sort that Jane has, she’s a hugely talented player but I have no doubt that Antrim have the resources and talent pool to look after this problem and whose to say there’s not another æJane Adams’ waiting in the wings to come in,”” he said.


In the other semi-final old rivals Derry and Down will once again do battle tomorrow with a place in the Ulster Final on the 4th July at stake.


Derry manager Danny McGrellis believes that his side is up for the challenge having gone six weeks without a competitive match: “”It’s a really important game for us it’s been a while since we had a game but we’ve had a few challenge games that have helped to gel the team. On the positive side for the first time this season we have a full panel available to us with no injuries.””


Reaching the Ulster final McGrellis feels will help kick start Derry‘s season ahead of the All-Ireland championship but he insists that his side is not looking any further ahead than tomorrow’s game.


“”Ulster is great preparation for the championship and reaching the final was one of our goals but we’re not looking any further than Down. It won’t be an easy game and to tell the truth we don’t want an easy game we want a good tough match with the result going our way.””


Down have enjoyed a successful season having sealed the Division 3 National League title but manager Joe Baldwin feels that his side must now turn their attention to the championship.


“”We have to focus on the championship now it was great to win the National League but it’s over now. We’re really looking forward to the challenge that the Championship will bring, we’ve extended the panel and have eight new faces so we have even more talent available to us.””


Baldwin admits that he has some issues with the timing of the game but says it will not affect his player’s attitude or preparation towards the match: “”Some of the girls live in South Down which makes it a two hour journey to Swatragh which isn’t pleasant at that time. We want to be part of the Ulster showcase in July; it’s in Park Elser so it would be nice to have a Down side in the final.””


He recognises that Derry will not be easy opposition saying: “”They have some phenomenal players in their side. I know Edelle (Henry), Sinead (Cassidy) and Maureen (Hennegan) from playing at Queen’s and their all good players so I have an idea of what to expect. They have been playing at a higher grade than us so we would view it as a step-up but we’re really looking forward to getting down and playing the game,”” he added.


Ulster Championship Semi-Final, Saturday: Antrim vs Armagh, Casement Park Belfast 6.30pm

Ulster Championship Semi-Final, Sunday: Derry vs Down, Michael Davitts Swatragh 11.30am



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