Saffrons must improve as they travel to Dublin

Allianz Hurling League – Division 1b

Antrim v Dublin

Date: Sunday 12 February – Throw in: 3:30pm

Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)

Brendan McTaggart looks ahead to Sunday’s game with Dublin at Parnell Park

The National Hurling League rollercoaster heads down the M1 on Sunday as Antrim travel to Dublin in search of their first league points of the year.  A ground where the Saffrons have notoriously struggled to come away with any positive result, the north Dublin venue will play host to Darren Gleeson’s men looking to get rid of frustrations borne from the Kilkenny defeat last Saturday.

I called it the one that got away in my report after the game and with some time to digest and after watching it again on the BBC iPlayer, it still feels that way.  Antrim came close to declawing the Cat’s, despite hurling below par for long periods of the game.  Too often ball went to ground in search of a pass or the precision just wasn’t there when trying to find a man in space.  A poor first half performance preceded a workman like second half but there was no hiding the disappointment at the full-time whistle.  There may have been an air of relief coming from those from Kilkenny while Antrim manager Gleeson tried to make sense of it all.  When it comes to welcoming the likes of Kilkenny to Corrigan Park, his side have been more than up for the occasion in the recent past.  “There’s an air of disappointment about the place” said the Antrim manager, “the conditions came with us in the second half.  They didn’t really influence things in the first half but it was difficult to play into it in the second half as Kilkenny found with their new style of hurling that they’re trying to play.  They found it hard to work the lines like they did in the first half.  We got an opportunity but we didn’t take it.”

Gleeson alluded to how the elements swung in Antrim’s favour.  Trailing by four points at half time, the wind made a 180 degree turn and were at the back of Saffron shirts in the second half.  Antrim failed to capitalise in what was hugely difficult conditions if not favourable for Antrim: “We hit five wides in a crucial period in the second half.  We struggled to retain possession that we would normally be slick enough with or I’d like to think we’d be slick enough with but it was basic errors in the first half that put us on the backfoot.”

Antrim will certainly be disappointed with the first 35 minutes.  Unforced errors against a side who don’t need any invitation to capitalise was never going to end well but as Gleeson continued, he told us it was a reminder of playing hurling at this level where time and space is at a premium: “They put pressure on you and stop you from giving that good ball to hand and that’s the difference.  That’s the difference when playing against a top team, last years All-Ireland finalists.  They will work and hound, that’s in their DNA and put pressure on those strikes but there were some bad turnovers.  Losing ball on our own puck outs, giving away some silly frees.  I counted 1-6 in the first half that was our own making.  If you take that away from the half time score or even half of it, it’s a different reflection.”

There’s lessons to be learned from last Saturday, Antrim need to be 100% on their game when it comes to the Allianz League.  Teams of this calibre will punish you at every opportunity and while Kilkenny didn’t exactly do that, they had an ace up their sleeve in Billy Drennan who stole the show with his man of the match performance.  That being said, Paddy Burke was hot on his heels with his 70 plus minutes.

With just a week to work out those areas that needed ironing, the inclusion of Nigel Elliott into the squad for Sunday’s game will be a welcome sight for Gleeson as he looks ahead to Dublin: “You could feel it (the disappointment) from the crowd and the group themselves.  It was an opportunity and we didn’t take it but look, it’s a league and we’ll be judged at the end of it.  Even if we got a win I’d say the same thing.  Our boys have to focus now going down to Parnell Park and it’s a long time since Antrim got anything out of Parnell.  It’s an opportunity again, every day you wake up it gives you an opportunity in life so we’ll have to go for it.

“It’s a hard place for any team, let alone Antrim.  Anyone who gets points at Parnell earns them that’s for sure.  We’ll get back into the gym on Monday night and back to the field on Tuesday and go from there.”

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