Storm Saffron heads to the Bann as the league returns

Allainz Hurling League – Division 2A

Antrim vs Meath

Date: Sunday February 23

Throw In: 12.30pm

Venue: Páirc Uí Cheallaigh, Portglenone

Referee: Sean Stack (Clare)

By Brendan McTaggart

Another year, another league campaign and another meeting with Meath.  I can’t be the only one who’s insides drop a little when thinking on 70 minutes of hurling against the Royal County?

Storm Ciara, Storm Dennis and talk of Storm Emma coming in, the hurling leagues have been derailed in 2020.  Antrim looked to have served up the perfect storm when the fixture Gods threw in a challenge game against Tipperary in their ‘free’ week before facing Offaly.  Dennis had other ideas.

Gerard Walsh in action against Meath in Kehoe Cup in November

Emma may turn out to be a gentle breeze that your mother would be screaming the house down to get the clothes hung out in but for now, Antrim return to hurling action on Sunday.  A home fixture in what is unfamiliar but most welcome surroundings.

Portglenone and Páirc Uí Cheallaigh will host Antrim’s third league match of the 2020 campaign as Antrim look to maintain their 100% record. Meath travel to the Roger Casement’s club off the back of a promotion winning 2019 league campaign.

Out of their three league matches so far, the Royals have one win and that over Wicklow on match day two with four points to spare.  Defeats to Offaly by two and Kerry by five last weekend show the Royal’s haven’t been far away against the ‘big hitters’ in Division 2a but when it comes to encounters, the Saffrons don’t need any reminding of what they are capable of.

12 months ago the sides met in the league and while Antrim scored three first half goals from James McNaughton, Eoin O’Neill and Ciaran Clarke, they led by just one point at the interval and required an late, late score from McNaughton to grab the two points available.  Final score that day in Páirc Tailteann 3-13 to 2-15.

The two sides met 12 weeks ago, again in Navan but this time in the Kehoe Cup.  Antrim blitzed the Royal’s on that occasion, scoring 2-8 in the space of 12 first half minutes from which Meath never recovered.  Domhnall Nugent with the score of that and any other game I’ve witnessed this season.  21 yard free, little or no back lift yet the Meath ‘keeper is still looking for the sliotar.  Fierce strike from a player who has certainly added to the Saffrons this season.

The starting team has been named with Conor McAllister making a league debut in goals.  The Cushendall man given the nod ahead of Ryan Elliott while the defence named in front of him is settled.  Ciaran Johnston starting at full back and Paddy Burke just front of him.  Gerard Walsh and Joe Maskey on the wings while Phelim Duffin and Stephen Rooney start in the corners.

Joe Maskey is named to make his first league start at left half back

Midfield see’s Eoghan Campbell and Keelan Molloy returning to form what’s certainly an exciting partnership.  Campbell the bonding ingredient in the Saffrons side while Molloy’s attacking prowess will make him a handful for the Royal’s.

In attack, Neil McManus will lead from the front at centre three quarters with James McNaughton and Michael Bradley on the wings.  Conor McCann, Domhnall Nugent and Dan McCloskey complete the line up.

The change of venue will do Antrim no harm at all.  Loughgiel’s Fr Healy Park surface took a battering against Mayo and the weather in the three weeks since wouldn’t have helped.  It’s an unusual move to take a hurling game to Portglenone but if there’s a venue and pitch in Antrim that can take all these ‘Storms’, they’ve found it.  The Casement’s have put in a huge amount of work on their club grounds in recent times and this is just reward for that hard work and a game of this magnitude will help with the promotion of hurling in the south-west Division.

Eoghan Campbell is again named at midfield on the Antrim team

Modern day GAA would tell you there could be changes to the 15 ahead of throw in on Sunday at 12.30pm but for now, all road lead to the banks of the Bann.

Antrim Starting Team

Conor McAllister; Phelim Duffin, Ciaran Johnston, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Paddy Burke, Joe Maskey; Eoghan Campbell, Keelan Molloy; James McNaughton, Neil McManus, Michael Bradley; Domhnall Nugent, Conor McCann, Dan McCloskey

Story so far….

Antrim 0-20 Wicklow 0-11

Antrim 4-19 Mayo 0-7

Meath 1-21 Offaly 0-26 (played in Birr)

Meath 2-25 Wicklow 3-18 (played in Navan)

Meath 0-8 Kerry 0-13 (played in Trim)

League Table:

Team Pld W D L F A Diff Pts
Kerry 3 3 0 0 4-28 0-35 +25 6
Antrim 2 2 0 0 4-39 0-18 +33 4
Offaly 2 1 0 1 0-40 3-32 -1 4
Meath 3 1 0 2 3-54 3-57 -3 2
Wicklow 3 1 0 2 4-45 3-58 -10 2
Mayo 3 0 0 3 1-33 7-59 -44 0

The last time they met….

Kehoe Cup Round 1

Saturday November 30

Antrim 3-27 Meath 1-15

TEAMS

Antrim: R Elliott; S Rooney, Ciaran Johnston, C Boyd (0-1); G Walsh, P Burke (0-1), M Donnelly; E Campbell, N McKenna (0-3, 2 frees); M Bradley (1-3), R McCambridge (0-1), C McCann (0-4); Conor Johnston (0-10, 5 frees 1’65), D Nugent (1-3), A Delargy (1-1).

Subs: J O’Connell for R McCambridge (h/t); C McHugh for M Donnelly (h/t); R Molloy for M Bradley (55); Ryan McGarry for N McKenna (55); R McCambridge for C Boyd (68)

Meath: C Ennis; G Murphy, P Lally, S Brennan; S Geraghty, J Toher (0-4, 2 frees), K Keoghan; P Hanrahan (0-1), P Potterton; J Walsh (0-1), S Whitty, A Healy (0-7 frees), D Raeligh, D Gilmartin, N Potteron.

Subs: J Regan for P Lally (h/t); P Slevin for D Gilmartin (h/t); S Ennis for G Murphy (49); C Kelly for J Walsh (58); N McLarnon for P Potterton (58); P Potterton for P Hanrahan (65)

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