Antrim can't afford slip-ups against League leaders Westmeath says manager Neal Peden
Allianz National Hurling League Division 2A: Antrim v Westmeath (tomorrow, Corrigan Park, 2pm)
ANTRIM cannot afford to slip up against unbeaten League leaders Westmeath on the Whiterock Road tomorrow.
After losing their Division 2A opener against Kerry, the Glensmen simply have to win to keep their promotion destiny in their own hands and victory tomorrow would see them take over at the top of the table on head-to-head if Kerry fail to beat Mayo.
Antrim manager Neal Peden had earmarked tomorrow’s clash as a crucial game when the fixtures were made.
“It’s a game we need to win to get promotion back in our own hands,” he said.
“If we can get this win behind us we can then dictate where we’re going, it’s in our hands and that’s why it’s so important for us to try and get a result on Sunday.
“We knew this Westmeath game was going to be huge – they’re top of the table and we’ve already lost to Kerry so we can’t afford to lose any more points.
The game is a replay of the Kehoe Cup final which was played out at Abbottstown, Dublin on January 19. The sides drew 2-20 to 1-23 before Westmeath won 3-0 on penalties and since then they have travelled to Kerry and returned with a two-point win and saw off London in Mullingar in the second round of games.
“They’re unbeaten so we know what’s ahead of us,” said Peden.
“They are very like Kerry. They are a very physical team and they have a good, structured forward line, they work off each other and they play to a system – they play three in midfield and different things so you have to be conscious of what they’re doing to keep on top of them because they can get a good spell against you.
“They got a good spell against us in the Kehoe Cup and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen tomorrow.”
Antrim lost 2-16 to 1-21 against Kerry in their opener but bounced back impressively to see off Meath in Trim last time out. Jack Regan’s goal from a 21-yard free had levelled the game in the second minute of injury-time but irrepressible Antrim forward James McNaughton broke forward from the puck-out and nailed the winner to see the Glensmen take the points. Loughiel Shamrocks clubman McNaughton has registered 1-20 in two games so far.
“The performance against Kerry wasn’t a massive disappointment, it was a physical battle,” manager Peden reflected.
“Things went against us but we put on a mighty performance that day. We just couldn’t get there in the end but we were pleased with the performance and what we did at times.
“Against Meath again we showed what we could do and we were very strong. Meath came back at us pretty well and they got a goal and then we worked the ball very quickly down the pitch and got the vital score at the end.
“We were well pleased that heads didn’t go down, we showed a good bit of character as a team and got that winning point with the very last puck.”
McNaughton’s late winner in Meath could turn out to be a crucial score in what is shaping up to be a predictably dog-eat-dog battle in Division 2A.
“We knew Kerry and Westmeath were going to be strong in the League,” said Peden.
“Westmeath are coming up to our home venue so we’re hopeful we can put a performance on. It’s about us going out and playing to our gameplan, taking our scores early and not letting them get away from us.”
This is a crucial game for the Glensmen and they will need to hold their nerve to win it. With home advantage and the return of four experienced Cushendall and St Enda’s players, they should do.