Antrim prepare for ‘Offaly’ big test

Allianz Hurling League – Rionn 2A

Antrim vs Offaly

Sunday February 16

Venue: Bord na Mona O’Connor Park, Tullamore

Referee: David Hughes (Carlow)

By Brendan McTaggart

Two from two and the promotion dreams continues.  Thoughts on a return to Division 1b are becoming more prevalent with maximum points gained from the opening two matches so far for Darren Gleeson’s men and while they may not have set the world on fire while doing so, they are in exactly the position they need to be as they travel to Tullamore this weekend.

Hurling of any kind is rarely going to be pretty in winter months, becoming a war of attrition and battle of wills for the most part.  Against Wicklow, Antrim shook off the cobwebs to see off the dogged resistance of Wicklow.  Described as a workman like performance by many in the media but the two points they were after.  Against Mayo in Loughgiel, a slow start preceded a comfortable win and the two points were never in doubt.

Antrim’s Kehoe Cup final meeting with Offaly was a physical affair and Sunday’s vital league game should also be a hard hitting affair

Both matches had one major similarity.  The surfaces they were played on.  The pitch in south Wicklow wasn’t conducive for pretty hurling and despite the best efforts of the groundsmen in Loughgiel, Fr Healy Park wasn’t going to allow for fast flowing hurling either.  It’s not a slight on the work done by the hardworking volunteers, it’s the reality of the situation.  It was borderline mission impossible to get the pitch prepared as well as it was never mind have it resembling a surface in the summer months.

Sunday off course is a rematch of the Kehoe Cup final, played in Páirc Tailteann just five weeks ago.  Offaly edged the Saffrons by the minimum with an Oisin Kelly point in injury time but the score line really didn’t reflect the 70 minutes.  Michael Fennelly’s men hit an incredible 18 wides overall while Dan McCloskey score Antrim’s goal deep in injury time.  Antrim weren’t at their fluent best on that occasion and will probably show a number of changes for the weekend.

Neil McManus in action during the Kehoe Cup final against Offaly in Januarly

Offaly for that matter had improved immeasurably from when Antrim last played them in Tullamore in the McDonagh Cup last June.  Michael Fennelly has his fingerprints all over this team now and hey are a different animal to the team Antrim faced in Tullamore eight months ago.  The Saffrons were fantastic on that occasion however.  They outplayed, out-manoeuvred and outfought the Faithful County despite playing with a man less for the majority of the game.  Keelan Molloy brilliant on that occasion just as he was when the two sides met in the middle of January in Navan.  The Dunloy man drawing praise after the Kehoe Cup encounter from Offaly hurling legend and chairman of their county board, Michael Duignan.  Duignan watching on as his son Brian scored Offaly’s goal in the second half to open a five point lead. 

The Saffrons battled and kept in touch with Offaly and McCloskey’s goal looked like they were on the verge of stealing victory from the jaws of defeat.  Offaly had other ideas.

Oisin Kelly and Peter Geraghty impressive in attack for Fennelly’s charges while captain Ben Conneely led by example at centre half.

Alex Delargy in action against Offaly in the Kehoe Cup final

Since the Mayo victory, Antrim tackled the All-Ireland champions to open the fantastic new ground of Davitt’s.  A match where they saw the return of Conor McCann back from injury, Joe Maskey and David Kearney returning to action in a Saffron shirt.  The result against the Premier County was never important, Antrim needed a performance after the battles against Wicklow and Mayo.  They got both a fine result and an excellent performance in what was a competitive match.  The perfect tune up for the most important match of their season so far.

In the race for promotion, performances count for very little.  What matters is the end result and how you get to that point does not matter and will be forgotten about if the end result is the desired outcome.

Performances are secondary in this division.  It’s all about the win.  If you win in style it helps but at the start of the campaign Antrim would have expected two from two and that’s exactly what they have achieved.

Sunday isn’t exactly win or bust for Antrim, but the fact that it is for Offaly will bring added pressure. After losing ot Kerry last time out the Faithful county simply can’t afford to slip up again and that will not help the Antrim cause.  A defeat is not the end of the world for the Saffrons, but a victory against the Faithful County would go some way to realising the promotion dream for the Saffrons.

Offaly collected the silverware when Sunday’s opponents met in the Kehoe Cup final in January

When they last met

Sunday January 12

Kehoe Cup Final – Antrim 1-15 Offaly 1-16

Teams

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Conor Boyd, Eoghan Campbell; Keelan Molloy, Nicky McKeague; Michael Bradley, Neil McManus, James McNaughton; Domhnall Nugent, Alex Delargy, Niall McKenna

Subs: Conor Johnston for N McKeague (43); Ronan Molloy for A Delargy (43); Ryan McCambridge for M Bradley (46); Aodhan O’Brien for C Boyd (46); Dan McCloskey for N McKenna (55); Conor McHugh for S Rooney (67)

Scorers: Neil McManu 0-9 (5 f’s 2 ‘65’s); Keelan Molloy 0-5; Dan McCloskey 1-00; Niall McKenna 0-1

Offaly: James Dempsey; Brian Watkins, Damien Egan, Paddy Rigney; Michael Cleary, Ben Conneely, Dan Doughan; Brendan Murphy, Leon Fox; Shane Kinsella, Peter Geraghty, Oisin Kelly; Liam Langton, Sean Cleary, Thomas Geraghty

Subs: David King for B Watkins (ht); David Nally for B Murphy (49); Paul Kinsella for S Cleary (52); Brian Duignan for P Geraghty (62); Kevin Dunne for L Fox (65); Jason Sampson for S Kinsella (69); Ross Ravinhill for L Langton (inj)

Scorers: Liam Langton 0-4 (3 f’s 1 ’65); Brian Duignan 1-00; Leon Fox 0-2; Shane Kinsella 0-2; Peter Geraghty 0-2; Oisin Kelly 0-2; Sean Cleary 0-2; David Nally 0-2 (1 f)

Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath)

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