Antrim straining against the Laois to go upwards - and avoid the drop again
Allianz Division Three, round four: Laois v Antrim (O'Moore Park, Portlaoise, 6pm tonight)
THE Sisyphean struggle goes on for the Saffrons. Pushing the boulder towards promotion, will they get further up the hill, closer to going over the top - or be knocked backwards once more?
There truly are no easy games in this division, even if most of the results haven't been as close as one might expect. Sure, there have been two draws in the 10 matches so far, but the other eight have been won by an average of 5.5 points, with two being the smallest winning margin.
Antrim have veered from a nine-point away win against Fermanagh to a four-point home loss (Limerick), then a six-point victory (Wicklow), also at Corrigan Park. They now face their first trip outside Ulster.
Laois, having been demoted from Division Two, won their opener well, by five points in Louth, but then lost by six at home to Leinster rivals Westmeath in round two. The weather forced off the Fermanagh-Laois and Westmeath-Longford games last weekend, so Antrim's bounce-back victory over Wicklow sent them top of the table on scores registered, with the same score difference as Westmeath.
The Saffrons will probably need another win to stay in pole position, and even that might not be enough, depending on other results, but a win would have the great value of probably keeping them safe from an instant relegation back to Division Four.
Antrim are better than that, but Laois will feel that they are better than Division Three, even if they were in the bottom section along with this evening's opponents as recently as 2018. Their scheduled round five meeting then was cancelled by the CCCC after an initial bad weather postponement as Laois were already promoted, but Antrim did win in Portlaoise in 2017 and also prevailed in a 2015 All-Ireland qualifier.
The O'Moore men followed up that promotion in 2018 with another elevation in 2019, but now under the new management of former player Billy Sheehan they will be glad to avoid a second consecutive relegation. The Tralee native is Laois's sixth successive manager from the Kingdom, as the county seeks to get back to the levels it reached for a few years from 2003 onwards, when they won Leinster and challenged in Division One and the latter stages of the All-Ireland series.
Gary Walsh has been their main scoring threat so far, with 2-6 in their two games, but they will also look to Evan O'Carroll and Eoin Lowry.
Antrim have had a greater spread of scorers, and if they can keep goals out - or restrict their hosts to just one major - they have the ability to move onto six points at the league moves into its second half.
The Saffron subs used in the win over Wicklow included Conor Murray, Paddy McBride, Marty Johnston, Pat Shivers, and Seamus McGarry, so Antrim also have the depth to see them through what should - should - be a tight tussle.