Hurling & Camogie

Antrim have to defy history and away form to shake up Leinster

The Saffrons’ record at Parnell Park is not as good as some might think

Seaan Elliott  Celebrates.jpg
Seaan Elliott celebrates his vital goal in Antrim’s two-point Leinster SHC victory over Wexford at Corrigan Park. The Saffrons will attempt to back that result up – and further upset the provincial hierarchy – when they face Dublin at Parnell Park on Saturday Picture: Seamus Loughran (seamus loughran)

ON the day after Antrim beat Wexford in Corrigan Park two weeks ago, Joanne Cantwell discussed the implications of that result on the broader picture of the Leinster Championship with Donal Óg Cusack, Ursula Jacob and Anthony Daly on ‘The Sunday Game’ live before the Galway-Kilkenny match.

The result wasn’t just a shock – it had also blown the Championship wide open. Galway and Kilkenny were still fancied to reach the Leinster final and, while that prospect is still heavily up for debate, Antrim’s result certainly turned up the heat in the province.

Former Dublin manager Daly felt that the final placings could hinge on Saturday’s Antrim-Dubs match in Parnell Park. As well as the Saffrons being on a high, Daly felt they would relish going into the tighter confines of Parnell Park, rather than the wide open expanses of Croke Park.

“And,” said Daly, “the Antrim clubs have a good track record of playing in Parnell Park.”

They do, but their results are still not as positive as the perception deems them to be. And there is a marked difference between being hard to beat, and winning those games in Parnell Park.

Loughgiel Shamrocks did beat Na Piarsaigh from Limerick there in 2012, but that was the only game an Antrim side won from any of their 10 All-Ireland Club semi-finals played at the Donnycarney venue over the last 30 years.

Cushendall did go extremely close on four occasions; in 1997 they lost to Wolfe Tones from Clare by one point; in 2000, Ruairi Óg also lost to another Clare side in St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield by six points after a replay; Waterford’s De La Salle edged them out in 2009 after extra-time; and 10 years later, St Thomas’ needed an injury-time point to beat the Antrim champions by one.

Those are the stand-out performances but the other five semi-finals played at Parnell Park by Antrim clubs in the last 30 years were far less positive. The average losing margin in those games – Athenry/Dunloy (2001), James Stephens/O’Donovan Rossa (2005), Loughrea/Cushendall (2007), Portumna/Dunloy (2010) and O’Loughlin Gaels/Loughgiel (2011) – was 10 points.

Cushendall lost the 2007 semi-final by five points but they only scored 0-9 and Loughrea were always comfortable in that match.

Antrim teams have had a solid record in All-Ireland semi-finals but, of the 10 semi-finals won, only one of those victories was in Parnell Park. When Cushendall finally won an All-Ireland semi-final after eight previous attempts, against Sarsfields from Galway in 2016, the game was played in Navan.

When they almost got over the line again against O’Loughlin Gaels in December, that match too was in Navan.

It’s a similar trend at inter-county level for Antrim against Dublin. Over the last 30 years, the counties have met in Parnell Park on seven occasions, with Dublin winning six, while the sides drew in Donnycarney in Phase 2 of the 2004 League. It’s been a similar pattern in the Walsh Cup – in their seven meetings in the competition, Dublin are ahead 7-0.

Across the last 30 years, the counties have met on 19 occasions (15 in League and four in Championship) and Antrim have only won five of those matches.

Antrim beat the Dubs in Casement Park in 1996, 1998 and 2007, while they took them down in Loughgiel in 1999. Antrim’s only Championship victory against the Blues was in a 2010 Qualifier in Croke Park, when they edged the match by a point.

In their history, Antrim have won 10 of their 40 League meetings against Dublin, but they were the home side for eight of those victories. The two away wins were both in Croke Park, in the 1977-78 and 1986-87 League campaigns.

The sides have only met three times in Leinster, with the Dubs winning in 2009 and 2021 by margins of 10 and 18 points respectively, while last year’s match in Corrigan Park was a draw. Antrim should have beaten Dublin at the same venue in this year’s League but a fortuitous goal in the dying moments handed Dublin a one-point victory.

That performance will have infused Antrim with enough confidence to believe they can take down the Dubs now, especially when they have a much stronger team than Darren Gleeson could call on that afternoon in February.

Antrim’s confidence will be higher again after the brilliant win against Wexford, but one issue they still have to address is their record on the road.

Outside of the 2022 Joe McDonagh Cup final, Antrim have only won three games away from home in League and Championship in the last four years. Two of those were against Down and Meath in the 2022 Joe McDonagh.

Yet that other win is what Antrim will be drawing on, having gone to Mullingar last May and beaten Westmeath to preserve their status in Leinster.

A year on and the province has never been as open, with just one point separating first and fifth in the table. A week after Antrim’s seismic victory against Wexford, the Yellowbellies’ win over against Galway has shaken Leinster up even more.

If Antrim can taste victory on Saturday, they’ll have an opportunity to become the first team outside of the dominant quartet of Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny and Wexford, to break into that Leinster pack and, rattle it to its core.

Six points are still on offer but Antrim will need something from Saturday to have a realistic chance, especially with an inferior scoring difference after the Kilkenny game.

The displays of Gerard Walsh and Keelan Molloy – who didn’t feature against Kilkenny – were crucial to the Wexford win while Ryan McGarry moving to centre-back has also made a huge difference to the team structure.

The big question for Antrim now is whether they can back that up.

And can they finally win a game in Parnell Park? Because, despite the perception, that’s never been easy for Antrim to manage. Especially against the Dubs.