Allianz Hurling League Division One Group B
Antrim vs Kilkenny – Sunday May 16
Venue: Nolan Park, Kilkenny
Throw in: 1:30pm
Referee: Sean Stack (Clare)
By Brendan McTaggart
The one fixture anyone with hurling blood coursing through their veins looked for when the fixtures were released. Darren Gleeson takes our Saffrons to the heart of hurling country to face The Cats in their backyard on Sunday as they look to feed off the momentum gained from their superb display last weekend against The Banner.
A two point win no one really saw coming other than those closest to this squad. These guys have an inner belief in what they’re doing. That belief shone through in Corrigan Park as Antrim backed themselves against one of the ‘traditional’ hurling big guns. Speaking after the game, Gleeson reiterated the squad’s mentality: “These guys have the belief that they can play at the highest level and now they have to see if they can back up that performance with another performance and keep that winning momentum going in the league. The league is massive for us, not to take away from our win, Clare experimented a small bit there today but I’m happy with the positivity and momentum.”
Antrim trailed by just two points at half time and had a considerable wind at their back for the second half. They had worked their socks off in the opening 35 minutes but they couldn’t shake the Banner. The Antrim manager said he was pleased with how his side grinded out the result: “You’re never going to run away from a team like that. Sometimes we play within ourselves and you might have noticed last year we played a lot better into the breeze. It creates that natural room inside whereas with the wind we’re that bit more cluttered. It was nip and tuck but we dug it out. I liked that.”
Belief is the key word among the Saffrons set up now. Belief in their own ability against the best in the country. Last Sunday’s win gives them two points and in a wonderful position to retain their Division One status. Gleeson continued: “There’s five other teams in the Division for us to play. We don’t go out with an attitude that we can stay within 10 points of them. It’s nil all at the start and we’ll see what happens at the end. That’s how we play it.”
On facing Kilkenny in Nolan Park, Gleeson was purring at the thought: “It’s a great place to go and play a hurling match. I think it’s been the best field for the last two or three years. It’s a great place to go and hurl and pit yourself against the standard bearers for the last 20 years. That’s why we fought hard last year, to get into Division One and play the standard bearers.”
With no further injuries, Gleeson has named an unchanged side. Unsurprising given how well they performed last day out. It was as strong a performance all over the field as the Saffrons have put in since Gleeson took the reins.
The energy, the intensity, the graft, the touches of brilliance. It was a golden day for the Saffrons as they defeated a Division One Munster for the first time in living memory. They’ll need the same again when they make their way to Nolan Park on Sunday. Star player TJ Reid isn’t named in the Cats matchday squad but any Kilkenny 15 will be a strong side. Antrim will always start as underdogs in any game against Kilkenny but one thing is certain, they will relish the challenge of pitting themselves against Brian Cody’s men. This side are on a journey, improving every step of the way under the tutelage of Gleeson and his backroom team. It’s exciting times for Antrim hurling right now, it’s a shame the loyal fans can’t be there with them.
Antrim Team: Ryan Elliott; Damon McMullan, Gerard Walsh, Stephen Rooney; Eoghan Campbell, Paddy Burke, Joe Maskey; Neil McManus, Keelan Molloy; Niall McKenna, James McNaughton, Michael Bradley; Conal Cunning, Ciaran Clarke, Conor McCann
Kilkenny Team: Darren Brennan: Tommy Walsh, Huw Lawlor, Paddy Deegan; David Blanchfield, Padraig Walsh, Conor Browne; Richie Reid, Cillian Buckley; Liam Blanchfield, Eoin Cody, Martin Keoghan; James Bergin, Adrian Mullen, Alan Murphy