Dubs defeat won't matter by time of Championship clash says Antrim's Niall McKenna

Niall McKenna was one of Antrim's better performers as the slipped to an eight point defeat at the hands of Dublin on Saturday. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

DUBLIN may have struck a psychological blow against future Championship opponents Antrim last weekend, but Saffron star Niall McKenna insists that defeat will count for nothing by the time the counties meet again.

The Dubs were convincing winners at Parnell Park, finishing up with eight points to spare and sending out a warning shot ahead of their June 26 Leinster Championship clash with Darren Gleeson’s men in Navan.

Considering how early it is in the delayed 2021 season, though, much can change in the almost five weeks between now and then, the toll of earlier tussles with Clare and Kilkenny evident as the Saffrons struggled to get going on Saturday.

And McKenna says Antrim won’t be dwelling on defeat to Mattie Kenny’s men ahead of their summer rematch.

“We’re not really fearing anyone at this level, even though we’ve had two bad results in-a-row,” said the Sarsfield’s dynamo.

“There’s definitely lessons to be learned. We’re not going to dwell on it too much, we know that’s not us, it’s not what we’re working on in training. Today just didn’t click for us, the last day either, but we’re back to training and hopefully we go out and get a better performance against Wexford.

“We’re going to get bad results, at this level anyone can beat anyone so you can’t be worried too much about taking a defeat.”

Having reached the promised land of Division One, an opening day victory over Clare left Antrim well placed heading into the rest of campaign – although back-to-back losses against Kilkenny and Dublin have quelled that momentum.

A 20 minute period without troubling the scoreboard cost them dear on Saturday, and McKenna admits the Joe McDonagh Cup winners are still getting to grips with the step up in level.

“You need to be taking your chances. If you make a mistake you’re getting punished, whereas last year you had that wee room for error,” he said.

“The boys you’re coming up against are a lot fitter and stronger but we’ve improved as well. It is a step up in level but we’ve stepped up as well. Personally I haven’t felt too much difference but that’s because of the work we’ve been putting in. If you’d asked me last year if we’d had to play one of those teams it might have been a different answer.

“That’s a couple of games now we’ve had a slow start, having to claw our way back into it. It is going to click for us, we’ll take the lead and run away from teams, so we just need to be patient. It is going to come – we’ll not beat ourselves up too much.

“Boys are maybe just a bit nervous, getting themselves hyped up too much and just not flowing well, almost as if we’re trying to force it.

“But we know the talent we have in the squad and the way we can play. We know the potential we have, Darren’s telling us the potential we have; we just need to show it now.”

The break in the National Hurling League comes at a good time and, although they have a Conor McGurk final date with Down on Friday night, it affords Gleeson the opportunity to rest some weary bodies and consider other options ahead of the restart.

And the Tipperary All-Ireland winner says captain and full-forward Conor McCann will be fit for the remaining two League games against Wexford and Laois, both at Corrigan Park, after missing out on Saturday.

“He was just broke up from the effort of the two weeks,” said Gleeson.

“Conor came in with a shorter pre-season than anyone, he wasn’t training at all from December because of a bad foot injury - it was a shock to the system with the two games.

“But he’ll be fine. If the game was on Tuesday or Wednesday’s he’d be perfect but we just couldn’t put him in there.”

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