Brendan McTaggart looks ahead to Antrim’s National League opener with Kilkenny at Corrigan Park
Antrim v Kilkenny
Date: Saturday 4 February
Venue: Corrigan Park, Belfast
Throw in: 2pm
Referee: Chris Mooney (Dublin)
And so, the odyssey begins once more as Darren Gleeson leads Antrim into the National League. Trips to Dublin, Waterford and home ties against Laois and Tipperary but before all that, there’s the small matter of Saturday’s game with Kilkenny.
The first time since 2009 that the Cats have made the journey up the M1 and a first for the Black and Amber to grace Corrigan Park since 1943. It would make Saturday’s opening game of the National League quite significant.
Kilkenny will need little if any introduction. All-Ireland Finalists last year, they come to Belfast with an aura of hurling royalty. After Brian Cody stepped down at the end of the last county season, Derek Lyng has made the step up from coaching the Cat’s U20s to All-Ireland success in 2022. Lyng has mighty big shoes to try and fill by being the replacement for Cody, given what he achieved in his 24 year tenure but his appointment was an astute move by Kilkenny with an eye on the future.
Having survived a relegation playoff last year to stay in Division One, Antrim will be looking to make more progress and reaffirm their status in the big league. Last year was a rollercoaster ride where the Saffrons could have easily avoided the nervy tie with Offaly. Chances going against Waterford, Dublin and Laois that on another day could have seen Gleeson’s men with six points. If Antrim are to show their progression under Gleeson, they will have to begin to change ‘good performances’ into points on the board. No one will know that better than the straight-talking Darren Gleeson who is famed for his dislike of looking at silver linings in the face of defeat.
The Walsh Cup campaign wasn’t much to be writing home about if truth be told. An improved performance in Parnell Park against Dublin preceded a disappointing display against Westmeath in Abbotstown and an indifferent game against Galway in Darver. In a schedule where there isn’t much room for manoeuvrer, Antrim need to find some confidence and momentum to hit the ground running. It wasn’t there in the Walsh Cup.
That being said, the Antrim management team were missing the talents from Dunloy due to their involvement in the All-Ireland Club final. News coming from the camp suggests there is seven returning to the Saffron fold, Conal Cunning, Keelan Molloy, Ryan McGarry, Ryan Elliott, Phelim Duffin, Seaan Elliott and his brother, Nigel. Elliott had been instrumental in Dunloy’s championship wins in Antrim and Ulster while starring against St Thomas’ in the All Ireland semi-final. He will be a welcome return to the panel, thought to be next weeks game against Dublin but how many of the rest of the Dunloy contingent will be involved on Saturday against Kilkenny remains to be seen. Given the split league and the lack of any downtime for any players who are successful with their club, Saturday’s game may come a week too soon for the Cuchullains to be involved.
One player who will be missing however is Aaron Crawford who continues his recovery from a shoulder injury sustained against St Thomas for Dunloy. He will be joined in the treatment room with Ciaran Clarke, Conor McCann and Domhnall Nugent who all have long term injuries.
Having played in the Walsh and McGurk Cup’s, Loughgiel’s Damon McMullan’s return has been curtailed. Having missed all of last season with club and county, it has since transpired that McMullan’s shoulder hasn’t healed as desired and he faces another long period on the sideline. Saturday will be the first of two home games against Kilkenny with Antrim’s involvement in a full Leinster Championship campaign later in the year. In what promises to be a mouth-watering year of hurling for the Saffrons, they don’t come much bigger than the challenge of the hurling aristocracy from Kilkenny but as they have shown in the past, Antrim will relish the challenge of facing the likes of Derek Lyng’s men as they continue to prove their
The Kilkeny team who were beaten by Wexford in their last outing in the Walsh Cup two weeks ago was
Kilkenny: Aidan Tallis; Mikey Butler, Evan Cody, Niall Rowe; David Blanchfield, Pádraic Moylan, Pádraig Walsh; Paddy Deegan, Shane Murphy; Paul Cody, Cian Kenny, Tom Phelan; Gearóid Dunne, John Donnelly (0-1), Niall Brassil.
Subs: Cillian Buckley for Blanchfield (41), Cillian Doyle for Murphy (43), Shane Walsh for Dunne (49), Niall Brennan for Kenny (52), Des Dunne for Moylan (54), Ian Byrne for Phelan (58), Billy Sheehan for Brassil (59), Colum Prendiville for P. Cody (66), Niall Mullins for Donnelly (68).