Saffrons Ready for Clash with The Cats

Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship

Match Day 3

Antrim v Kilkenny

Date: Sunday 7 May

Time: 1pm

Referee: Shane Hynes (Galway)

Brendan McTaggart looks ahead to Sunday’s Leinster Championship clash with Kilkenny in Corrigan Park…

Antrim’s Leinster Championship odyssey sees the hurling aristocrats from Kilkenny make the journey to the Whiterock Road on Sunday.  It will be the second time in three months the Cats will make the journey to Ireland’s second city and the first time under a championship setting.

Sunday is the third game in the Leinster Championship for Darren Gleeson’s men with a draw against Dublin preceding a narrow defeat in the ‘Sunny South East’ against Wexford.  One point from a possible four but more than a hint of disappointment that there isn’t more on the board.

Kilkenny’s David Blachfield and Antrim’s Eoghan Campbell during the league meeting between the sides back in February.

Dublin was a game that Antrim should have won and it took a late point from Donal Burke to rescue a share of the spoils for the Dubs.  Last weekend was a familiar tale for the Saffrons however where they suffered for starting slow and were faced with an uphill task in Wexford Park.  That being said, the home side were watching the clock as the Saffrons finished strongly and with a number of goal chances coming and going, you get the feeling that it was an opportunity missed.

Onto Sunday and a meeting with hurling royalty on Coronation Day – tongue firmly in cheek with that statement.  Derek Lyng’s first league match in charge of Kilkenny was at Corrigan Park in late February where he found out a little about hurling and the weather in west Belfast at that time of year.  The wind swirled, the rain teemed and sticks flew.  In fairness, both sides struggled with the elements that day but for Antrim they had a rueful look on their faces as they left the Corrigan Park surface.  A six point win at the end of 70 plus minutes and a scoreline that flattered the Cats.  Debutant Billy Drennan proving to be the difference with seven of his 1-8 coming from frees and as he’s proved since in league and championship, he’ll take some looking after on Sunday.

Antrim free taker Conal Cunning in action during league meeting with Kilkenny back on Februarty 4th

Derek Lyng has named the strongest team possible for Sunday’s encounter with on social media calling it the strongest team he has named this year.  There’s certainly a marked difference between the 15 named to start on Sunday and that which started in late February.  The Shamrocks (Ballyhale) contingent missed out for much for the league with TJ Reid’s first game in the black and amber of 2023 coming in their first match against Westmeath and he is joined by clubmates Darragh Corcoran, Eoin Cody, Richie Reid and Adrian Mullen in the starting line up.  In total, Lyng has retained just six players from that game in February: Mikey Butler, Huw Lawlor, David Blanchfield, Billy Drennan, Martin Keoghan and Billy Ryan with the likes of Cillian Buckley, Padraig Walsh, Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan on the bench.  It’s fair to say the Cat’s aren’t taking the challenge of Darren Gleeson’s men lightly.

In a run of consecutive championship matches at this level, injuries are always a possibility and it’s become a reality for Antrim.  Nigel Elliott is ruled out with a foot injury sustained against Dublin while his brother Seaan had to come off against Wexford and remains a doubt along with Eoghan Campbell.  The Antrim Captain also came off against Wexford with a foot injury that was certainly causing him severe discomfort and it will be a huge loss for the Saffrons if they have to go into Sunday’s game without their influential centre half.  Sunday may also come too early for Niall McKenna as he continues his return from injury.

Paddy Burke has been a tower of strenght in the Antrim defence all season

With an extra week to recover from this run of games to follow, Antrim will be looking at that favourably with the game against Galway in Salthill their next fixture.  A win on Sunday and in Salthill will have us dreaming of going to Mullingar with a place in the Leinster Final on the line instead of our fate in the Leinster Championship but lets not get ahead of ourselves.  Sunday’s game is about the biggest game Antrim have had in our own county for generations. 

You’ll have to go back to 1943 where Antrim defeated Galway in the quarter-final and Kilkenny in the semi-final of the All-Ireland.  Both hugely unexpected victories at that time, 80 years on wouldn’t it be great to write another piece of history against hurling aristocracy?

The weather may not be much better on Sunday to what it was in February, the ground will be a little harder but the Saffron challenge you can be sure will remain the same.  They go into Sunday as huge underdogs but the bookies have been wrong before….

Antrim’s James McNaughton in action during the National League game against Kilkenny back in February. James is a direct link with the Antrim team who beat Kilkenny in the All Ireland semi-final 80 years ago, on August 1st 1943 at Corrigan Park. His great uncle Paddy McGarry (5th from left in the middle row of the photo above) was right half back on the team.

When they last met….

Allianz Hurling League – Division 1b

Antrim 0-15 Kilkenny 1-18

Saturday 4 February

Brendan McTaggart reports from Corrigan Park, Belfast

The one that got away.  Antrim took on the might of Kilkenny in a wind swept Corrigan Park on Saturday afternoon and by the final whistle, the overriding emotion is one of regret.  This one was there for the taking against the Cats and the look of disappointment on faces as the Saffrons trudged off the Whiterock Road pitch said it all. 

Trailing by four at half time with the wind not only increasing in speed but also dramatically changing direction, the hurling Gods looked to have smiled favourably on Darren Gleeson’s men.  Antrim had the benefit of playing with the wind in both halves of this Allianz League Division One encounter but they couldn’t take advantage.

In fairness, they came up against a team who were led superbly by Padraig Walsh at the heart of their defence while Huw Lawlor and captain Cillian Buckley also shone.  The Cat’s retention of possession and ability to find a man coming off the shoulder was that little bit better than the Saffrons over the 70 minutes and was a major factor in deciding where the league points went to by the full time whistle…


Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Niall O’Connor, Ryan McGarry, Paddy Burke; Gerard Walsh, Eoghan Campbell, Conal Bohill; Joe Maskey, Michael Bradley; Niall McKenna, Keelan Molloy, James McNaughton; Conal Cunning, Neil McManus, Eoin O’Neill

Subs: Phelim Duffin for N O’Connor (HT); Seaan Elliott for E O’Neill (HT); Conor Johnston for J Maskey (43); Paul Boyle for K Molloy (65)

Kilkenny’s John Donnelly with his Antrim cousins after the league game back in February. The big Thomastown man will be back in Corrigan again on Sunday when he wears the No. 11 black and amber shirt

Scorers: C Cunning 0-8 (8fs); N McKenna 0-2; P Burke 0-1; C Bohill 0-1; K Molloy 0-1; J McNaughton 0-1; N McManus 0-1

Kilkenny: Aidan Tallis; Mikey Butler, Huw Lawlor, Niall Power; Cillian Buckley, Padraig Walsh, David Blanchfield; Paddy Deegan, John Donnelly; Walter Walsh, Cian Kenny, Paul Cody; Billy Drennan, Martin Keoghan, Billy Ryan

Subs: Shane Murphy for P Cody (HT); Tom Phelan for C Kenny (63); Alan Murphy for W Walsh (68)

Scorers: B Drennan 1-8 (7fs); M Keoghan 0-4; P Cody 0-2; A Tallis 0-1 (1f); P Walsh 0-1; J Donnelly 0-1; W Walsh 0-1

Referee: Chris Mooney (Dublin)

Championship scorers so far….

Conal Cunning 0-22 (17f, 2’65s); Gerard Walsh 0-4 (4fs); James McNaughton 1-1; Conor Johnston 1-01; Michael Bradley 0-3; Seaan Elliott 0-3; Paul Boyle 0-2; Keelan Molloy 0-2; Rian McMullan 0-2; Neil McManus 0-2 (1f); Niall O’Connor 0-1; Paddy Burke 0-1; Seamie McAuley 0-1

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