Hurling and camogie

Antrim energised by Galway show as understrength Dublin come to town

Antrim's Nigel Elliott comes under pressure from Galway's Sean Loftus and Matthew Donoghue during last week's Division 1B opener in Salthill. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

Allianz National Hurling League Division 1B: Antrim v Dublin (tomorrow, 2pm, Corrigan Park)

THERE haven’t been any texts to Dominic McKinley’s phone this week. At least, not like there were in the lead up to the much-anticipated, and in some quarters dreaded, trip to Galway.

‘Twenty-three points – money in the bank’

That’s just one example. It was all good natured banter and, as a dyed in the wool hurling man who has been there and done it all, McKinley was under no illusions about the size of the task facing Antrim.

But the widely-held assumption that the Saffrons were heading out west for nothing other than a hiding from the All-Ireland champions didn’t sit well.

“People are only joking but it’s still not nice,” says McKinley.

“You can imagine the mindset of players if people are telling them ‘you’re wasting your time training, you’re wasting your time going’.”

Galway, 1/500 favourites, may have been far short of their September best but the unheralded visitors almost sprung a huge surprise.

Leading by three with 14 minutes left the Saffrons, back in Division 1B after a two-year exile, were in the driving seat before Michael O’Donoghue’s men came roaring back in the closing stages to sneak across the line.

Moral victories don’t put points on the board, but a marker had been laid down.

People are now telling players and management they should be beating Dublin, tomorrow’s visitors to Corrigan Park. What a difference a week makes.

The Dubs came into the League in a blaze of publicity because of the presence of Pat Gilroy, who led the county’s footballers to All-Ireland glory in 2011, on the line.

However, last Saturday’s 13-point Croke Park hammering at the hands of unfancied Offaly proved the rudest of wake-up calls. The Faithful were 5/1 outsiders going into that game – the same odds at which Antrim are available.

They may have been shorter were the game being played in Dunloy instead of Belfast, and McKinley admits the nature of the Galway performance has “energised” the Antrim set-up.

“We’ve got a group of players there who are training properly and turning up every night. We’ve been happy with our training – now, did we expect that to happen? Maybe not.

“But it happened and, once the dust had settled, you realise it was an opportunity missed to get off to a winning start. We lost but that performance has energised the players, the managers, and it has also energised our training.

“Training was happy on Tuesday night, we had 33 players there, and things are turning for us.”

Tomorrow represents a different kind of challenge altogether.

While Antrim are without the likes of last year’s captain Simon McCrory, Stephen Rooney and Niall McKenna, Gilroy is missing a host of experienced faces including Liam Rushe, Danny Sutcliffe, Peter Kelly and Joey Boland.

Eight League debuts were handed out against Offaly, and there is likely to be more reshuffling tomorrow as the Dublin boss attempts to nail down his best team.

Last week they were left to rue the one that got away, but a win tomorrow would be a major boost to Antrim’s survival hopes.

“It goes without saying we’d prefer the match to be in north Antrim,” added McKinley.

“You maybe think you’re getting that slight advantage playing the match in north Antrim but we’re not getting caught up in that.

“What we want is to repeat that performance and see where it takes us against Dublin.

Whatever they have, they’re going to be throwing at us because it’s serious important for them now as well.

“Pat [Gilroy] hasn’t settled in yet and is probably finding out about his players. If we can get our performance right, get at the game and play the same way, who knows what can come out of it?”

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