Antrim can settle another score against struggling Laois
Joe McDonagh Cup round three: Antrim v Laois (Dunloy, 1,30pm today)
ONE ‘r’ word – relegation – was mentioned by Antrim management ahead of this competition, while another – revenge – wasn’t.
However, the Saffrons don’t have to worry about the former while they’ve been impressively achieving the latter, without needing to talk about it.
Antrim have been settling scores so far against teams that have troubled them in recent years and today is another opportunity for payback.
The venue appears to be another indication of Antrim’s desire to set the record straight, or at least improve it. Cushendall was initially listed but it’s been switched to Pearse Park in Dunloy, where Antrim contrived to lose the Division 1B relegation play-off against Laois in mid March, hitting a host of wides. Back to the scene of the crime, as it were.
Although managers may not like to talk about ‘revenge’, Antrim’s Neal Peden did take the unusual step of talking about this round three game immediately after their opening match in Meath.
Carlow were next up – and what a battle that turned out to be last weekend – but the St John’s man had blue and white opponents in his sights even then:
“We’re ready and we want Laois again,” declared Peden post-match in Pairc Tailteann. “We’re looking forward to that challenge again when Laois come to us because we do feel we just didn’t step up that day.”
Unlike Carlow last weekend, Antrim didn’t take their eye off the ball and went on to record a second win to put themselves in pole position in the standings.
That’s in complete contrast to Laois, who lost in Kerry to compound their opening defeat at home to Westmeath.
The O’Moore men may have been viewing this match against the other 1B participants of this year as one to decide who tops the group; instead, it could end their hopes of progress to the All-Ireland series. Defeat in Dunloy and a Westmeath win in Kerry would confirm that fate for Laois.
There is hope for the visitors, though, in that Antrim will be under-strength today. It was another of the four-man management team, Dominic ‘Woody’ McKinley who was wary about relegation and he also spoke of the attritional effect the packed programme could have on teams.
Antrim were forced to make at least three changes to their team that lined out against Carlow in Corrigan Park, and have apparently made even more.
Broken bones rule out half-back Joe Maskey (foot) and forward
Michael Armstrong (arm). The other definite absentee was sweeper/midfielder Eoghan Campbell, who is suspended after his first half dismissal against Carlow.
It remains to be seen whether Neil McManus will line out after requiring six stitches after being struck in the groin by Carlow’s Richard Coady; for now, the Cushendall man has been named among the subs, as has Creggan’s Conor McCann.
Antrim’s re-shaped attack, at least as announced, now includes Conor Carson, James McNaughton, and Daniel McCloskey.
There are boosts in defence with experienced back Aaron Graffin set for his first start in this competition, while clubmate and fellow defender Ryan McCambridge, who went off injured late on against Carlow, is also listed to start.
Laois will be without defender ‘Podge’ Lawlor, who received a straight red last weekend. Even when he was on the pitch they’ve been shipping scores and were well beaten by Kerry, thanks largely to three first half goals from the hosts in Tralee.
Ross King remains a scoring threat for them, mostly from placed balls, but the Saffrons have been showing serious scoring power, notably from Nigel Elliott and Conor Johnston.
They look to have the confidence to take another step towards the McDonagh Final and a place in the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-finals.
Antrim: R Elliott; S Rooney, J Dillon, A Graffin; P Burke, C McKinley (capt.), R McCambridge; E McCloskey, S McCrory; N Elliott, C Johnston, J McNaughton; D McKinley, C Carson, D McCloskey.
Substitutes: C O’Connell, M Donnelly, N McAuley, C Boyd, C McCann, N McManus, D Kearney, G Walsh, E O’Neill, R McNulty, C Clarke, K Molloy, C McHugh, T Burns.