Christy Ring Cup: McKinley warns against complacency
Christy Ring Cup round 2A: Antrim v Roscommon
(Saturday, Dunloy, 3.30pm)
A TEAM from the lower echelons of the National Hurling Leagues shouldn’t be able to live with Antrim.
But then, Antrim were supposed to rip through the teams in Division 2A and reach a play-off along their preordained road back to Division 1B and look how that turned out.
Once the wheels came off in Westmeath in early March, Antrim never recovered. A week later, their promotion hopes went up in smoke when they lost at home to Carlow and they rounded off a thoroughly miserable campaign by losing their third NHL game in-a-row to London. A county board meeting with the management team to review Antrim’s disappointing league campaign resulted in PJ O’Mullan’s resignation.
Given recent history, Antrim have forfeited the right to believe they’re too good to lose to lower-ranked teams such as Roscommon in round 2A of the Christy Ring in Dunloy on Saturday afternoon.
Interim manager Dominic ‘Woody’ McKinley made exactly that point to the Antrim players at Thursday night’s training session: “Everybody knows the pitfalls of this game,” he said.
“We’ve talked about how much you’ve got to respect other teams. We’re in no position to disrespect any team because of where we are. If our attitude is not right, we could be in trouble - make no mistake about that.”
Roscommon have caused more than a ripple already this season by winning all their NHL Division 3A games and edging out Donegal in a nerve-shredding promotion/relegation play-off three weeks ago. And the fact Antrim struggled to overcome Derry in their league opener and Roscommon dismissed the Oak Leafers in last week’s opening round of the Christy Ring with surprising ease should nail any sense of complacency among the home side's ranks.
After all, a team that is used to winning and has nothing to lose is always a dangerous opponent. While the trip to the Glens is a significant step-up in class for Roscommon, they have some fine attacking players, as Derry found to their cost in Athleague last weekend, and they’ll want to impress in Dunloy.
Jerry Fallon swept over some brilliant points before picking up a second yellow card in the closing stages, while Cillian Egan and substitute Jamie Lawlor rippled Derry’s net.
Antrim, for their part, posted arguably their best half of hurling in their 12-point victory over Kildare in their Ring opener last Saturday afternoon. Ballycastle’s Ciaran Clarke produced a vintage display in racking up an incredible 2-10 (0-7 frees), while James Connolly showed glimpses of his potential.
They’ve also got the Cushendall contingent back following their All-Ireland final defeat to Na Piarsaigh on St Patrick’s Day: “Any county team in the country would be glad to take in players who are just off the back of an All-Ireland Club campaign and the confidence they bring,” said recently converted midfielder Ciaran Johnston.
McKinley admitted that, when the interim management team came in, the squad’s “spirits were down a wee bit and they’d lost a lot of energy because of results": “I think their morale was made worse by losing to teams [in the National League] that they thought they should have been beating.
“Basically, what we’re trying to do is energise them again and last Saturday against Kildare helped that a wee bit. But we’re not dancing around about the result. They played quite well and they played with a lot of energy in the first-half. We were happy with the work-rate but then, in the second-half, we went back to our old habits... We’re trying to get 70 minutes out of them.”
Antrim will be without a couple of key players as they bid to secure their semi-final berth. Simon McCrory is attending his brother’s wedding, while Conor McKinley - Woody’s son - is ruled out with a knee injury. Ciaran Johnston and Sean McAfee picked up knocks against Kildare, but should be fit to resume on Saturday.
Worryingly, Darren Hamill had to undergo surgery after being hit in the testicles with a sliotar during a training session prior to the Kildare clash and is out: “If we can get a win on Saturday, that gives us a wee bit more energy and we would have two to three weeks after that to get some serious work done with the players,” said McKinley.
“But we have to get over this Roscommon game, who have won 12 or 13 games on the trot.”
If Antrim’s attitude is right, there should be no upsets coming out of Dunloy late on Saturday afternoon.