Suspension-hit Lamh Dhearg face uphill battle against Kilkenny champions
All-Ireland club Junior Hurling Championship semi-final: Lamh Dhearg (Antrim) v Mooncoin (Kilkenny) (tomorrow, 2pm, Trim)
AS if taking on the Kilkenny kingpins in an All-Ireland semi-final wasn’t already a big enough ask, Lamh Dhearg go into tomorrow’s meeting with Mooncoin short of six starters.
Brendan McColm, Declan Lynch, Paddy Mervyn, Conor McConville, Ryan Diamond and Mickey McGuigan are all suspended after the Antrim club’s Ulster final victory over Donegal’s Sean MacCumhaill’s ended in a mass brawl.
Kilkenny clubs have lifted the title in the last two years – Bennettsbridge in 2015 and Glenmore last year – and Mooncoin start as 1/5 favourites to progress.
Yet Lamh Dhearg, managed by former Down player Simon Wilson. are quietly confident about their chances of springing an upset.
Throughout a distinguished career with the Antrim footballers, Paddy Cunningham played his part in some memorable days, including the run to the 2009 Ulster final.
Yet, as he prepares for tomorrow’s last four clash, Cunningham says the opportunity to reach an All-Ireland final is huge.
“Obviously football would be my main sport but throughout all my years playing for Lamh Dhearg, it’s the biggest game club-wise that I’ve been involved in and it’s great for the rest of the lads to be involved in,” he said.
“We’ll go into the game as massive underdogs but that suits us because there’s no pressure on us, we can go out and hurl with a bit of freedom and put a performance in.
“But we’re under no illusions about the task, especially with the boys we’re missing. Obviously they’re huge losses - if you take six starters out it’s obviously a massive hole in the team.
“But I’ve only come into the panel since just before Christmas and I have to say I’ve been really impressed with the training under Simon, and the attitude, the team ethic within the squad.
“Everything is based on hard work and it has been impressive watching it in the early part of the year and now being involved in it.
“Fingers crossed, if we can keep it tight for as long as possible we might be able to get a result but it’ll be a mammoth task for us.”
Without a competitive game since that provincial decider at the end of October, Lamh Dhearg have kept busy with challenge matches and recently took a trip to St Loman’s Park – the venue for tomorrow’s game – to take on Trim.
Cunningham hopes that bit of familiarity with their surroundings will stand to them.
He added: “It was good to get familiar with the journey, the changing rooms and the pitch, all those wee things add up.
“But I’m sure Mooncoin will be equally as prepared and obviously they have their full quota to pick from as well.”
In tomorrow’s other semi-final, Sligo champions Calry-St Joseph's face an uphill challenge against Cork outfit Mayfield when they meet at O'Connor Park in Offaly, with a 12.30pm throw-in.