Mumps - and Antrim - may derail Kerry hopes
Allianz Hurling League Division 2A: Kerry v Antrim (Tralee, tomorrow, 12.30pm)
WHILE the Coronavirus has threatened to throw sporting events into widespread disarray, a bout of mumps is the key issue for Kerry's hurlers as they get set to host Antrim in tomorrow's crunch Division 2A clash in Tralee.
Three of Fintan O'Connor's team are believed to have been affected by illness and won't figure against the Saffrons tomorrow, with a statement confirming the outbreak that has created a headache for The Kingdom's hurlers who stand on the brink of reaching the League final.
"There are a small number of players on the Kerry Hurling Panel confirmed to have Mumps," it read.
"Kerry GAA is following medical advice and relevant HSE protocols. All appropriate measures are being taken."
It is an unfortunate situation for Kerry who require just a draw to secure a top-two place, but throughout the campaign, they have shown the strength in depth to go into tomorrow's game with four wins from four.
Their visitors make the long trip south with an identical 100 per cent record but have played one game less, so still have a little work to do regardless of the outcome tomorrow.
Darren Gleeson's charges did themselves no harm with last weekend's trouncing of Meath that ensures they have a healthy points difference should that come into play after next weekend's rearranged game against Offaly.
The Saffrons have made strides this year and have begun to address some issues that dogged them in recent times - namely easing the scoring burden on Neil McManus.
In their three games to date, no fewer than 18 different names have got on the scoresheet and that is a welcome statistic for Antrim who will take to the field with confidence given their run to date.
“Whoever wins this is in pole position but I suppose we've earned the right of two semi-finals now,” said Gleeson.
“This is effectively a semi-final and whatever way that goes, we've another one the following weekend (against Offaly). These are big games, but the ones you want to be playing in.
“Maybe the weather will be a bit kinder, but we're looking forward to these two away trips although they won't be simple.”
The imminent arrival of Storm Jorge means Gleeson will not get the conditions he hopes for, but his players have shown the ability to adapt so far.
While Meath finished the first half last week with 13 players, this statistic was not the sole reason for their capitulation as Antrim led by 10 at that stage having played into a strong wind.
The Saffrons' work ethic and willingness to win the battle before the war has been a feature and one they will hope to carry into tomorrow's game.
Defensively, they have been fairly solid with the return of Keelan Molloy into the engine room giving them extra swagger, while in attack they have a variety of weapons with James McNaughton, Niall McKenna and Domhnall Nugent all complimenting McManus.
The hard work and competition for places has driven Antrim on and they will be quietly confident they can maintain their winning form and take another big step forward.
“We have 33 good men on the panel all training hard,” Gleeson reports.
“The games in front of us, we'll give everything when we get onto the field and I will say those 33 guys will give everything. That's what I'm looking for and what we set out as a backroom team at the start of the year – for everyone to give everything to Antrim.
“If they stay doing it, we might end up in a league final, but if we don't it won't be for the lack of effort.”