Covid struck Saffrons face the Lake County in McDonagh Cup opener

Joe McDonagh Cup – Match Day One

Antrim vs Westmeath

Sunday October 25 – Corrigan Park @ 2pm & Live on Beo Sport

By Brendan McTaggart

The euphoria of promotion and elation of achieving their goal was plain for all to see on the Tullamore pitch last Sunday.  The Saffrons battled their way past the Kingdom and thoroughly deserved their promotion with a top performance when they needed it most.

They had a lot riding on that one game.  The year that has been, threw them a curve ball of a promotion decider seven months from their last competitive match.  You won’t get in another season, well, I hope we won’t.  Throw in the loss of Neil McManus before anyone could get dirt on their shirts and it looked like it was going to be another one of those days.  We’ve all seen them.  Where Antrim have come close but fell at the final hurdle.

Antrim celebrate last week’s win

This team are different. 

The loss of the Cushendall and Antrim talisman galvanised Antrim even further.  Conal Cunning and James McNaughton electric in attack, Matthew Donnelly and Paddy Burke resolute in defence and they had plenty of support around them and off the bench.

Antrim hurling is reaching to be in a good place and they are getting there.  Through hard work on and off the pitch by a group of players and management or are relentless in their pursuit of achieving their goals.  Our goals.  Last Sunday went some way to achieving that and will live long in my memory.  The sight of Conor McCann standing in the stand at O’Connor Park ready to receive the Division Two trophy and with a smile from ear to ear, I doubt there was another man in Ireland who was as proud as he was at that point.

James McNaughton in action in Tullamore.

Onto the next challenge.

A short turnaround and the Saffrons welcome Westmeath to Corrigan Park on Sunday.  The toughest match of the group and a side who Antrim haven’t defeated in league or championship since the Leinster Round Robin of 2014.  They’ve had plenty of chances and last year in Dunloy they had a ‘make or break’ tie against them for the chance to reach the McDonagh Cup final on Leinster Final day.

They came up short. 

Eight points separated the sides and Antrim were left with another case of what might have been.  But, Westmeath are a good side.  They have made strides in recent times but they will be without the services of Killian Doyle who moved to London during the first lockdown and is hurling for St Gabriel’s while their recent ‘signing’ Davy Glennon is ineligible for this years competition.

Antrim, have had their own problems since last weekend.  Positive cases of Covid have rocked their preparations and a confirmed from the official statement released on Thursday, six of their panel will miss this weekends game with the trip to Carlow also given the guidelines on how to handle the given situation.

It’s just such a 2020 occurrence really.  Don’t get too far ahead of yourself, this year has a habit of checking your stride or completely throwing you off the tracks altogether. 

However, the show goes on.  Darren Gleeson and his backroom team have shown faith in their panel and get ready to welcome the Lake County to west Belfast and a tilt at the McDonagh Cup.  Last Sunday was probably the perfect preparation for the McDonagh Cup.  Off course it was much more than that but it was a competitive match against strong opposition and a contest that Antrim won more convincingly than the final score suggested.

Antrim’s Joe Maskey clears from defence during Antrim’s win over Kerry in Sunday’s Allianz National Hurling League Division 2 final in Tullamore.

A win on Sunday won’t derail the Saffrons chances of progression in this competition.  They have three matches thereafter with trips to Carlow and Navan either side of another encounter with Kerry that will paint the eventual picture but a win against Westmeath would be monumental and add to the confidence that is oozing through the squad after winning promotion.

The end game this year is a double header with the Liam McCarthy final at headquarters.  Once upon a time, not that long ago, that would have been a packed Croke Park but there’s a lot of hurdles to clear before we get that length.  Sunday is perhaps the biggest of those hurdles.

McDonagh Cup Fixtures

Vs Carlow (a) Saturday 31st October @ 2pm

Vs Kerry (h) 14th November @ 1:30pm

Vs Meath (a) 28th November @ 1:30pm

Keelan Molloy in in action against Westmeath in last year’s meeting in Dunloy.

When they last met….

McDonagh Cup – Saturday June 8 2019

Antrim 0-21 Westmeath 0-29

John McIlwaine reports from Pearse Park, Dunloy

Antrim’s bid for a place in the Joe McDonagh Cup final came up short in Dunloy today as the Saffrons failed to produce the heroics of last week’s win over Offaly while going down to a very good Westmeath side.

The home side were flat from the start and could not produce the form of the previous week and it was clear from the early stages that Westmeath had their homework done and executed their game plan perfectly as they closed down dangerman Neil McManus.  They were up for the fight from the start and in a stop-start game, free taker Killian Doyle gave an exhibition ending up with 17 points to his name, 11 from placed ball.  The free taking of McManus was also faultless with the Cushendall man accounting for the bulk of the Antrim scores with 13 points. 

Crowds on the Dunloy terracing at last year’s meeting with Westmeath. This time around the new Corrigan Park stand witll be empty

In their previous games in the competition, the Saffrons forwards scored some great goals, but this time around they never really threatened Conor Lynch in the Westmeath goal.  Things went from bad to worse for Antrim as they lost both Matthew Donnelly and David Kearney to second yellow cards but in truth there was little to suggest that either player warranted a red.

TEAMS

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, John Dillon, Stephen Rooney; Matthew Donnelly, Paddy Burke (0-1), Joe Maskey; David Kearney, Nicky McKeague (0-1, 1 ’65); Neil McManus (0-13 12f, 1 ’65), Ryan McCambridge, Keelan Molloy (0-1); Ciaran Clarke, Nigel Elliott (0-1), James McNaughton (0-3)

Subs: Eoghan Campbell for P Duffin (28); Conor Boyd for J Maskey (46); Daniel McCloskey for R McCambridge (51); Eoin O’Neill (0-1) for N Elliott (58); James O’Connell for C Clarke (68)

Westmeath: Conor Lynch; Darragh Egerton, Gary Greville, Liam Varley; Aonghus Clarke, Paul Greville (0-1), Shane Clavin; John Gilligan, Cormac Boyle (0-2), Killian Doyle (0-17, 9f 2’65), Joey Boyle (0-1); Robbie Greville (0-3), Derek McNicholas (0-1), Allan Devine (0-1)

Subs: Ciaran Doyle (0-2) for D McNicolas (46); Darragh Clinton (0-1) for A Devine (68); Shane McGovern for C Boyle (69); Conor Shaw for J Boyle (70+5)

Referee: Paul O’Dwyer (Carlow)

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