Antrim hurling joint manager Dominic McKinley aiming for top spot in Allianz League Division 2A

NOT RISKED...Conor McKinley will sit out tomorrow's match with Westmeath due to a thumb injury Picture Philip Walsh
By Padraig Kelly

Allianz National Hurling League Division 2A: Antrim v Westmeath (tomorrow, Cushendall, 1pm)

MOVING the goalposts has been the story of Antrim’s Division 2A campaign to date – and Dominic McKinley has been delighted that aims have had to be scribbled out and altered.

After last year’s annus horribilis, the first aim was to steady the ship and be competitive at the right end of the table. After some encouraging early results, that was adjusted to reaching the League final. With a spot in the decider all but guaranteed, the new objective ahead of tomorrow’s match with Westmeath is finishing top of the pile.

Antrim go into tomorrow’s match in Cushendall knowing that only a draw between Carlow and Armagh – a 20/1 shot – could affect their chances of appearing in the final next weekend, and the promotion opportunity that goes with it.

McKinley, who takes the side along with Terence McNaughton, Gary O’Kane and Neal Peden, has said that they will be ignoring that safety net and doing all in their power to finish the campaign unbeaten and at the top of the Division 2A table.

“The permutations make it very unlikely that we will miss out but sport is one of the worst things in the world for tearing up the script,” McKinley said.

“A draw in the Carlow game is the only thing that could make us lose out though, and that’s if we lose as well.

“That said, we approach every match in the best possible way and we approach every game trying to win.

“We’re not going train hard and work hard just to show up to a match and not put the effort in.

“We will be trying our best to finish top because we’re delighted at the moment. If someone had said at the start that you’d have seven points going into your final game you’d have said ‘aye, let’s have that’.”

Westmeath’s League aspirations ended after only two rounds as they opened with defeats to Carlow and Kildare. That meant that they were relying on unexpected results to get them back in the hunt, a tough ask in a five-team division.

It was a real comedown from last year’s Championship campaign, which saw them defeat Division 1B sides Offaly and Kerry as well as Carlow.

Two wins in the last few weeks have eased the pain somewhat but games against Armagh and London were always going to produce four points regardless of how poorly they were playing.

Tomorrow’s match will be a much better barometer for manager Michael Ryan.

“Westmeath are the best team in it,” was McKinley’s assessment of their opposition.

“That’s not making up stories or psychology or anything like that.

“Yes, they got off to a bad start but it just takes a couple of small things to turn it around.

“Westmeath seem to have these things sorted out and they’ll have a bit of confidence from the two wins they have behind them.

“We need to be at ourselves and perform to the best of our ability on the day.

“We believe if we can do that we’re in with a great shout in any of the games we play.

“We cannot say we are better than anybody though because our results over the last seven or eight years doesn’t prove that.

“We have a lot of ground to make up in the next two or three years.”

Perhaps with one eye on their potential final next week, McKinley has revealed that his son Conor will not play tomorrow.

“Conor is going to be left out, he has ligament damage in his thumb,” he said.

“That’s a concern for us but hopefully he will be okay with a week’s rest.

“The bottom line is if we play him this week and he gets a touch on it at all, he will be out for weeks so we’re not going to risk him.

“‘Shorty’ (Paul Shiels) is back. He took a bad slap against Kildare but he’s back and that’s a plus.”

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