McDonagh Cup – Match Day 3
Antrim vs Kerry
Venue: Corrigan Park, Belfast
Date: Saturday November 14 – Throw In: 1:30pm
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow)
By Brendan McTaggart
Every epic saga deserves a trilogy. Antrim and Kerry are creating their own blockbuster in 2020 and Corrigan Park plays host this time after the ‘T’s’ of Tralee and Tullamore. The Saffrons third match in the McDonagh Cup is their second of the campaign after their quite brilliant opening day win against Westmeath and their last gasp draw in Carlow.
If we have learned anything from the previous two campaigns, the road navigated and through the McDonagh Cup is never straightforward. It’s more like getting directions from the neighbourhood farmer, “take a right at the second lane on the left and if you go past the farm that has the pallets out the front you’ve gone too far. Come back on yourself and head left at the stone bridge.”
Tumultuous, mazy, bumpy and unpredictable. Let’s face it, we’d have it no other way. The McDonagh Cup has been a blessing for hurling, if only it had the national television coverage it deserves. A story for another day.
Kerry come to Belfast on Saturday as table toppers. Two wins against Meath (1-20 to 0-13) and Westmeath (2-19 to 0-14) mean a Kingdom win on the Whiterock Road, the unthinkable from the Saffrons point of view and they will have booked their place in the decider before welcoming Carlow to Austin Stack Park in their last match of the group game.
The equation for Darren Gleeson’s team is also simple. Their fate is still in their own hands and while the Barrowsiders almost threw a spanner in the 2020 ‘works’ for the Saffrons, they remain unbeaten this year. A brilliant exhibition against Westmeath preceded a gutsy and never-say-die display and the need for a break. Antrim looked weary and a team in need of a break by the end of the 70 plus minutes. They had three cup finals in the space of two weeks that could have been the making or the breaking of 2020. Put the fact it came off the back of a seven month COVID related break and it’s a good position to be in.
They’ve played some delightful hurling with a mix of tenacity, intensity, power, pace and skill. They’ve shown spirit and character when their backs are against the wall while knowing they are capable of more. But that’s exactly what Gleeson will have been instilling since leaving Carlow two weeks ago. They got out of jail in Dr Cullen Park, there is no doubting that, but they came out fighting and got a result against a very, very good side and a team who had just dropped from the Liam McCarthy last year. They will have a say on the whereabouts and the resting place of the Joe McDonagh Cup this year.
On the injury front, things are looking brighter for the Saffrons. Neil McManus heads the list of those who are available for selection with Eoin O’Neill, Conor and Ciaran Johnston likely to be available also. It will be a selection dilemma for Gleeson and his backroom team and a headache but it’s good to have options.
Those options may be narrowed somewhat with the weather conditions. Corrigan Park has an outstanding surface but it will have taken a beating with the elements for the past few days. McManus was close to fitness before the Carlow game, I would imagine he will be in the starting 15 for Saturday. His physical presence will help share that burden with Conor McCann, whether Domhnall Nugent gets a starting spot is the question. His impact off the bench against Carlow was exactly what the Saffron management were after. They may decide to keep that ace up their sleeve but if the conditions underfoot aren’t conducive to the attacking fliers, the St John’s man would be the man for the occasion. McCann, McManus and Nugent could provide the foil for the likes of McKenna, McNaughton, Clarke, Cunning and Molloy. A nice headache to have.
It may be the third time Antrim have met Kerry this year but this will be an altogether different task for the Saffrons. In February they were hit with mumps, in October they were missing their Kilmoyley contingent, the county champions. The bottom line, Kerry come to Belfast on Saturday in rude health, confident and at full strength.
Antrim have played well in their two outings against them this year. A superb second half performance in Tralee and a three point win in Tullamore that flattered Kerry. The Saffrons know they can continue their unbeaten run and while it won’t be a handy day out, I expect Antrim to be in pole position for a final spot by the time they travel to Pairc Tailteann on 21st November.
Story so far…..
Antrim 4-25 Westmeath 1-15 @ Corrigan Park, Belfast
Kerry 1-20 Meath 0-13 @ Austin Stack Park, Tralee
Carlow 2-25 Antrim 5-16 @ Netwatch Cullen Park, Carlow
Westmeath 0-14 Carlow 2-19 @ TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar