Make or break for Saffrons with McCarthy status on the line

GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship – Preliminary Round

Antrim vs Laois

Date: Saturday July 10

Venue: Parnell Park, Dublin

Throw in: 2:30pm

Referee: Sean Cleere (Kilkenny)

By Brendan McTaggart

Saturday represents Antrim’s make or break moment in the Liam McCarthy Cup and they face familiar opposition when they travel to Parnell Park on Saturday afternoon.  ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett and Laois are what stands between Darren Gleesons men and their season continuing or the unthinkable, a swift return to the Joe McDonagh Cup in 2022.

It’s really that simple.  Win or bust.

Two weeks ago against Dublin, the Saffrons were full of hope with a hint of quiet confidence at Pairc Tailteann.  They were always underdogs against the men from Ireland’s capital and by the end of the 70 minutes, the Dubs were worthy of the favourites tag.  Antrim started well but Mattie Kenny’s men were physically imposing and technically awesome on the day.  Antrim didn’t perform to the standards they have set in recent times which will be the single source of biggest disappointment for those concerned with the squad but to stay positive, they continued to show the battling qualities that have shone under Gleeson.  Neil McManus scoring points from all angles, Ciaran Clarke and Conal Cunning threatening but Dublin were too good on the day.  Donal Burke, Danny Sutcliffe and Ronan Hayes all outstanding as they kept the Saffrons at arms length before a ten minute period in the second half took where the Dubs scored 2-4 without reply took the game away from the Saffrons.

I said as we left Navan that Dublin would give Galway their fill of it when they met in the Leinster Semi-Final, and that turned out to be accurate.  Dublin showing their quality once more by defeating the Tribesmen by four points and qualifying for the Leinster Final.  The Dubs have made huge strides once more and play an excellent brand of hurling.

Back to Antrim and the task ahead.

It isn’t exactly a season defining game, considering their league campaign on a return to Division One but it is knockout hurling with a season ending and relegation to the McDonagh Cup on the line.  That is precisely what is on the line for Antrim.

This off course is the second time they have played Laois this season, just four weeks ago in Corrigan Park where they rounded off their league campaign with a four point win against a Laois side who perhaps had one eye on their relegation play-off with Westmeath.  The Saffrons held a nine point lead at one stage on the Whiterock Road but the midlanders reduced that to two points in the last minute of normal time but a late goal from Niall McCormick gave the Saffrons a winning end to their league campaign.

Darren Gleeson made changes for that game with Aodhan O’Brien making a start with Conor Johnston, Dan McCloskey, Eoin O’Neill and Seaan Elliott all making the starting 15 and there are more changes expected for tomorrow.  Conor McCann, Niall McKenna, Domhnall Nugent and Peter McCallin all missing through injury while Ryan McGarry is suspended after seeing red late in the game against Dublin.

Against Laois last month, Seaan Elliott made his senior county debut and excelled with 0-5 from play but if he makes the starting 15 on Saturday, Laois will be more wary of the Dunloy flier.

With McKenna missing through injury, Gleeson could look to Dan McCloskey for his work rate and pace in the middle third to fill the void the Sarsfield’s man has left behind leaving a full forward line of Ciaran Clarke, Conal Cunning and Elliott.  Michael Bradley and Neil McManus in the half forward line.  The only change in the back six could be the return of Aodhan O’Brien.  The Rossa man has impressed when thrust into the starting 15 and has been unlucky with injury at different times this year.  Ryan Elliott’s performances over the past number of seasons make him Antrim’s number one while a midfield pairing of James McNaughton and Keelan Molloy is mouth-watering.

Antrim start tomorrow at 4/9 favourites with Laois 9/4 according to Paddy Power.  The bookies rarely get these wrong.  If I were to place a £1 bet, it’s on the Saffrons to make the next round of the qualifiers.

Parnell Park awaits.

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