Antrim seek to maintain momentum despite disappointment of Storm Dennis
Allianz Hurling League Division 2A: Antrim v Meath (Sunday, 12.30pm, Portglenone)
ANTRIM’S hurlers had their kitbags packed, their seats on the coach selected; the diesel tank was full and there was just the one pit-stop to be made ahead of the journey south to Tullamore for their biggest game of the season to date.
But as the squad pulled into the carpark of the Balmoral Hotel on Belfast’s Blacks Road early on Saturday afternoon, the bad news came through. The next day’s promotion six-pointer with Offaly was off due to the impact Storm Dennis was having on the O’Connor Park pitch.
Just as Storm Ciara had done the weekend before, Dennis was wreaking havoc with the sporting schedule, both in Ireland and abroad.
There was nothing left for it but to have their lunch regardless and then decide what to do with the rest of their weekend. But Saffron selector Jim Close and the rest of Darren Gleeson’s coaching team soon ensured Antrim’s players wouldn’t be left completely to their own devices over the next 48 hours.
“We were all set for the game, it was a really big moment in the season for us, we had really focused on the game against Offaly, so it’s unfortunate the weather’s been atrocious the past couple of weeks and it had to be called off, but that’s what happens,” said the O’Donovan Rossa clubman.
“The boys were already on the bus and we’d stopped at the Balmoral and we found out. The inspection was at 12 o’clock and we found out then, so we just had lunch together. That was it. Everybody was packed and ready to go and then turning back was a bit of an anti-climax.
“We went and trained on Sunday morning then, so the whole weekend wasn’t lost.”
Despite the disappointment of last weekend, the Antrim hurlers have been building steady momentum so far this year, with two routine wins in the National League followed by a morale boosting exhibition match with All-Ireland champions Tipperary in Belfast.
“The whole squad has been focused and training hard, the results have been with us so far and we’re really just building a bit of momentum,” added Close.
“The game with Tipp was a fabulous day. It was a great effort by Davitt’s to get everything going and the lads really responded to what they saw and gave a great display right through the whole game. Everybody got a run out as well, which was good. We were unfortunate just to come up short against them.”
This Sunday, Antrim are down to play another of their promotion rivals in the form of Meath, with the gradient getting steeper from here on in. For Close though, the slog of winter hurling – especially in the last fortnight – is making it hard for all teams to reach their potential.
“We played against them in the Kehoe Cup, but it’s winter hurling. It was a blustery day and one of the first matches of the season, but we came through it okay,” he said of Meath.
“It’s just hard to get a good gauge with winter hurling. Meath were playing Kerry at the weekend, they were playing well in the first-half and there wasn’t much in it, but when the weather conditions got worse and Kerry were playing with the elements, they just really ran away with it. It’s very hard on everybody.”
The target though, whatever way the weather lets them go about achieving it, remains the same: “We have to win them all to progress properly.
“We’ve set ourselves some goals and we really want to push on here and we need to beat teams like Meath and Kerry and Offaly if we’re going to progress further up the scale.”