Saffrons face Faithful opposition with Kehoe Cup on the line

Kehoe Cup Final

Antrim vs Offaly

Sunday January 12 at Páirc Tailteann, Navan – 2pm

By Brendan McTaggart

All eyes and thoughts will turn to Páirc Tailteann on Sunday afternoon as Antrim face Offaly in the Kehoe Cup Final.  It’s the second year running the Saffron have made the decider after they tasted defeat to Westmeath 12 months ago, more about that later. 

The route to Sunday’s final had been fairly straight forward for Darren Gleeson’s men.  An opening day win against Meath at Sunday’s venue got the Saffrons season off and running.  Goals from Alex Delargy, Michael Bradley and Domhnall Nugent helping them on their way to an 18 point victory (3-27 to 1-15).

Niall McKenna is named at corner forward on the team to face Offaly

They played Wicklow in the second group game and another facile victory.  12 months previous they laboured against the Garden County, in December they had the game won inside 20 minutes.  James McNaughton with an electrifying cameo before having to come off injured but still managed to score two goals before coming off after 28 minutes.  Conor McCann with another two majors while Delargy had the goal-den touch again in a 5-27 to 2-10 victory.

Last Saturday’s McGurk Cup Final doubled up as the semi-final and despite a slow if not laboured start, Antrim ran out comfortable winners against Down at the Dub.  Niall McKenna and ‘Del (yes, again) with the goals in a 2-19 to 0-13 win. 

With no disrespect to the counties played so far, Antrim would have expected to reach the final without much alarm.  They’ve shown good form with the attack firing and defence solid but rarely tested.  Challenge matches against Galway and Slaughtneil presented sterner tests and Sunday will be the same.  Offaly won their semi-final against Meath with 15 points to spare and an eight goal route against the Royal County.  

Gerard Walsh starts at right half back

Despite captaining Ballyhale to another club All-Ireland final and a titanic battle against Slaughtneil, Michael Fennelly remains in charge of the Faithful County and they have been making light work of their passage to Sunday’s final.  Meath did manage to score 3-18 themselves but an inspired performance from Oisin Kelly ensured they made safe passage to Sunday’s final.  Kelly scored two majors in either half, Sean Cleary (two) and Liam Langton (two) with the others as the Faithful County recorded a 8-18 to 3-18 win. 

In previous matches against Offaly, we’ve often harked back to that day at Croke Park in 1989.  Now, we needn’t look any further than O’Connor Park, Tullamore and June last year.  Despite an early and questionable Martin Burke red card, the Saffrons outfought, out-manoeuvred and out-hurled Offaly in their own back yard.   Neil McManus top scored with 0-10 while Dunloy duo Nigel Elliott and Keelan Molloy (two) with the goals. 

The Faithful County were on a slippery slope six months ago and while they did put in a decent performance that day, Antrim were well worthy of their 3-23 to 4-18 win.  The score line not reflecting the Saffrons performance on the day. 

With the team already named, Antrim will have six changes from that day.  Keelan Molloy is named to make his first start in the Saffron shirt in a strong looking side and with a strong bench, Antrim are in good shape at this stage of the season.

James McNaughton came on in the McGurk Cup final win over Down but gets the nod to start this time.

12 months ago they took defeat from the jaws of victory against Westmeath in Abbotstown.  Five clear with not much time remaining, the Saffrons were taken to penalties that day.  The least said about the penalties the better but they’ve came close to taking the Kehoe Cup and make a return to the Walsh Cup.  Sunday represents a chance to go one better.

Gleeson has named just seven players from the starting 15 against Westmeath from last year’s final but it’s an exciting looking line up that has huge potential.  Offaly are going through resurgence in form but Antrim have hit the ground running so far in the 2020 season.  It will be a stern test but one the Saffrons should meet.

Starting Team:

  1. Ryan Elliott Cú Chullain
  2. Phelim Duffin  Cú Chullain
  3. Ciaran Johnston Naomh Eoin
  4. Stephen Rooney Naomh Pól
  5. Gerard Walsh Ó Dhonnabháin Rosa
  6. Paddy Burke Ruairi Og
  7. Eoghan Campbell Ruairi Og
  8. Keelan Molloy Cú Chullain
  9. Nicky McKeague Cú Chullain
  10. Michael Bradley Naomh Eoin
  11. Neil McManus Ruairi Og
  12. James McNaughton Na Seamroga
  13. Domhnall Nugent Naomh Eoin
  14. Conor Johnston Naomh Eoin
  15. Niall McKenna  Padraig Sairséil
Eoghan Campbell starts in the half back line

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