Gleeson calls for the fans to turn out in force

“Show the team that they mean something to them and this county” – Darren Gleeson

Brendan McTaggart speaks with Darren Gleeson as the Antrim manager sends out a rallying call ahead of Sunday’s huge Allianz hurling league game against Laois.

Allianz Hurling League – Division 1b

Antrim v Laois

Venue: Corrigan Park, Belfast

Throw in: 1pm

Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow)

All roads lead to Corrigan Park on Sunday afternoon as Antrim welcome Laois in a winner takes all encounter.  The permutations are simple for Darren Gleeson and his men, win and they ensure their Division 1 status for 2024.  A defeat and they will be facing a relegation play-off.

Déjà vu anyone?

Ryan McGarry was midfield when the sides met in the league two years ago in Corrigan. The Dunloy man moves back to the guard the edge of the ‘square’ at the weekend

We were in the same scenario 12 months ago when Antrim travelled to Portlaoise in the same position.  That day, an inordinate number of wides against a transformed Laois team left Antrim facing a play-off against Offaly regardless of the result against Tipperary the week after.

Antrim’s form coming into Sunday certainly gives reasons for confidence.  While they have no points to show for their efforts, they could quite conceivably be sitting with at least 4 points.  Last day out in Dungarvan, they were a match for the Deise for over an hour of that game.  The final scoreline certainly wasn’t a fair reflection on the game from a Saffron point of view and Gleeson told us his side have reacted well to the defeat: “I’m proud of their efforts against one of the top four teams in the country and they’ve reacted superbly.  They’ve got back on the horse and very much focussed on the next game.”

Going down to 14 men and the loss of key players had a massive impact on the Saffrons gameplan.  The Antrim challenge wilted late on the south coast and the Antrim manager gave us his take on it: “Playing with 14 men for maybe 50 minutes when you take in the injury time at the end of the first half along with losing Neil (McManus), Seaan (Elliott) who was having a really good game and James (McNaughton) who took a couple of really heavy blows.  One of them certainly should have been a straight red card.”

Eoghan Campbell will be badly missed at centre back this time out

Gleeson confirmed Elliott and McNaughton’s withdrawals against Waterford were down to concussion.  Both have been cleared for Sunday’s game but the news isn’t as positive for Conal Bohill who is ruled out through injury.  He continued: “They (Watrerford) were able to have an impact off the bench going into the final quarter.  We couldn’t do that with having to make changes early in the game but look I’m proud of how they performed.

“We hurled more consistently against Waterford.  In the previous matches we hurled in patches and I suppose that can be down to coming off the back of a pre-season where the lads maybe aren’t regularly together and with the Dunloy lads coming back late into the panel would have an effect on that also.”

Gleeson knows the magnitude of Sunday’s fixture and is wary of the challenge the O’Moore County will bring to Corrigan Park.  “They (Laois) are under new management now (Willie Maher) but by enlarge it’s the same group of players that we’ve seen with maybe the exception of one or two.  They have four or five high end payers and will bring an endeavour and work-rate but we’ll concentrate on ourselves and what we want to bring.  Last year there was plenty said about the game against Laois and how they targeted the game and ambushed us.  There was no ambush.  We didn’t play with the level of intensity that we showed we could through last year.  They targeted that game and we went flat out every time.”

Conal Cunninng in action during the league meeting at Corrigan in June 2021

Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunikett stepped down as Laois manager last June and they are now under the tutelage of Willie Maher.  Himself also a Tipperary native and led the Premier County to All-Ireland minor success in 2012.  He has Waterford hurling legend Dan Shanahan and Eamon Jackman as part of his backroom team but the 2023 season is taking a familiar journey for the O’Moore County.

Last year, they seemed to target the Antrim game as a means to staying in the top flight.  They certainly performed much better that day in Portlaoise than at any time in their previous outings in 2022.  Seeing off the Antrim challenge with late scores from PJ Scully and Cha Dwyer, despite playing with 14 men for

The likes of Paddy Purcell, Cha Dwyer and PJ Scully are names those who follow Antrim around the country will be familiar with while Tom Phelan’s goal last day out against Kilkenny coming off the bench may give Willie Maher and his backroom team food for thought when they are finalising their 15 for Sunday.

Sunday represents Antrim’s biggest game of 2023.  There’s no doubt about it.  It’s a must win game and Gleeson wants to see a huge crowd in Corrigan to get behind his side: “Sunday’s massive.  I would love for a big crowd to get out and get behind these lads.  Show the team that they mean something to them and this county.”

Antrim have brought back Ryan Elliott to between the sticks.  Gleeson called this a massive call by him but did say the Dunloy netminder has been superb in training since.  Gleeson also told us that Paul Boyle is unlucky to miss out but how he has been impressed with the injection of young talent into the squad this year.  “I’m delighted with how the younger lads have handled themselves” said Gleeson, “they’ll continue to be given a chance so long as this management team are together.”  Eoin Trainor and Christy McGarry will be involved with the U20s on Saturday while Seamy McAuley and Rian McMullan will both be part of the match day squad as will Domhnal Nugent.  The St John’s man has been out for nine month but the Antrim manager said he’s been putting in a mountain of work and will be an option if needed against Laois.

The game is being shown on the BBC iPlayer but if ever there was a time to use the old GAA adage of “Nothing beats being there” it’s now.  Forget about the snow and the ice, the iPlayers.  Corrigan Park is the place to be on Sunday.  Lets get behind our county and provide the 16th man.

Gerard Walsh in action in the 2021 League meeting with Laois at Corrigan Park

When they last met….

Laois 1-20 Antrim 1-19

6th March 2022

Antrim’s chances of remaining in Division 1B are hanging by a thread after Sunday’s narrow defeat by Laois in Sunday’s crucial Division 1B game in O’Moore Park, Portaloise. When Paddy Burke’s brilliant point put Antrim ahead as the game entered injury time, it looked like the Saffrons had pulled it out of the fire, despite an awful first half display. However their failure to take the chances that came their way were to cost them badly, and the home team rallied to level through a PJ Scully free before a late, late point from play by Cha Walsh sealed the win and left the Saffron rueing their 18 wides overall.

Despite a greats start which saw Neil McManus, Michael Bradley and Conal Cunning put them 0-3 to 0-0 ahead after just two minutes there was a slackness to Antrim’s play that lacked the intensity we have seen in other games in this campaign….

Laois: Enda Rowland (0-01, 1f); Diarmuid Conway, Sean Downey, Podge Delaney; Liam O’Connell, Ryan Mullaney, Mark Dowling; Jack Kelly, Fiachra C Fennell; Paddy Purcell (1-01), James Keyes (0-02), Ross King; Willie Dunphy (0-02), Cha Dwyer (0-04), Stephen Maher (0-08; 4f, 2 ‘65)

Subs: PJ Scully (0-02, 1f) for Dowling (50); Aidan Corby for King (56); Stephen Bergin for Maher (71)

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; David Kearney (0-01), Gerard Walsh (0-01), Stephen Rooney; Paddy Burke (0-02), Eoghan Campbel (0-01)l, Ryan McGarry; Keelan Molloy, Daniel McKernan; Michael Bradley (0-02), Domhnall Nugent, Conal Cunning (0-02); Seann Elliott (0-01), Neil McManus (1-07; 7f), Ciaran Clarke (0-02)

Subs: Conor McCann for Elliott, James McNaughton for Nugent (HT); Conor Johnston for Kearney (59); Eoin O’Neill for Molloy (62); Ryan McCambridge for Bradley (69)

Starting 15 for Sunday’s game with Laois..

  1. Ryan Elliott
  2. Paddy Burke
  3. Ryan McGarry
  4. Stephen Rooney
  5. Joe Maskey
  6. Gerard Walsh
  7. Niall O’Connor
  8. Michael Bradley
  9. James McNaughton
  10. Keelan Molloy
  11. Niall McKenna
  12. Nigel Elliott
  13. Conal Cunning
  14. Neil McManus
  15. Conor Johnston

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.