Antrim have shown the way for Carlow says Barrowsiders boss Colm Bonnar
Joe McDonagh Cup: Antrim v Carlow (today, 3pm, Corrigan Park)
THEY were the best of enemies last year after four hot and heavy meetings – but Carlow boss Colm Bonnar insists Antrim have shown the way for his men after going toe-to-toe with some of hurling’s big hitters.
The Saffrons failed to retain their Division 1B status but emerged from that League campaign with huge credit after battling performances against Dublin and All-Ireland champions Galway, as well as victory over Offaly in Tullamore.
Carlow will take their spot in 1B next year after earning promotion, and Bonnar believes Antrim’s performances proved promoted teams can hold their own at that level.
“A lot of the games were very close,” said the Tipperary man, a two-time All-Ireland winner.
“It was something I was unsure about, are we capable of going up and competing against teams who are there? But Antrim, to be fair to them, showed the way.
“The hope is that a team from Division Two can go up and stay up there, and Antrim came very, very close. If they had come out the right side of some of those close games they lost, they could have been in the quarter-finals.
“It just shows that, if you get your act together and have a bit of ambition, you can compete there.”
The Barrowsiders travel up to Belfast today for the second round of Joe McDonagh Cup fixtures, less than a year on from their 11-point victory over Antrim in the Christy Ring Cup final.
That was the final instalment in a gripping series of games through the spring months and, despite changes of personnel in both camps, similar fare is expected at Corrigan Park this afternoon.
Joint boss Terence McNaughton admits Antrim “didn’t do ourselves justice that day” and, buoyed by those League performances and an opening Joe McDonagh win in Meath, feels that day at Croke Park will have no bearing on today’s game.
“No, from that Antrim team I think there’s only seven players there,” he said.
“This is a new Antrim team with new momentum. It’s a new day.”
Bonnar, who is without some key men, agrees.
The Carlow boss has lost wing back Eoin Nolan for the year to a groin injury, wing-forward Seamus Murphy is still on the treatment table, while full-forward Marty Kavanagh is in the USA.
However, Paul Doyle is back in the fold while John Michael Nolan - suspended for the League final and last week’s victory over Kerry – is in the frame for a starting spot.
“Really, I suppose it’s gone out of both our minds because Antrim would have gone to a place where we hoped to go in terms of Division 1B and getting that experience of playing the better teams – the Galways, the Dublins, the Limericks…
“So I’d say they’re well tested and that will stand them very well in this competition. Last year we met them on four occasions and there was huge rivalry there but things move on.
“They were great hurling games, the game in Carlow was a top class game. Antrim brought the best out of us.
“Whoever wins will have two from two and you’re really set to go up the other end of the table. Somebody will be happy by half four on Saturday.”
Antrim: R Elliott; S Rooney, J Dillon, C McKinley; J Maskey, P Burke, R McCambridge; E Campbell, S McCrory; N Elliott, C Johnston, N McManus; D McKinley, M Armstrong, C McCann
CIARAN CLARKE UNLIKELY TO BE INVOLVED WITH ANTRIM IN CHAMPIONSHIP
CIARAN Clarke is not expected to be involved with Antrim this summer.
The Ballycastle hotshot, who was the Saffrons’ top scorer last year, picked up an injury in the pre-season Conor McGurk Cup but returned towards the end of the League.
However, Clarke wasn’t involved in last week’s Joe McDonagh Cup opener in Meath and Antrim joint boss Terence McNaughton confirmed his absence from the panel, saying: “Ciaran’s got other commitments.”
Meanwhile, Loughgiel stalwart Eddie McCloskey has been named among the subs for today’s clash with Carlow.
The 29-year-old sat out last year after deciding to take an indefinite break from the inter-county scene, but has now returned to the fold.