Hurling and camogie

Antrim's Michael Bradley buzzing to get back in Leinster Championship mix

Antrim's Michael Bradlley can't wait to get back in the Leinster Championship mix this weekend, when the Saffrons take on Dublin in Navan. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Anthony Gunning

THE return to the Leinster Championship has been a long time coming for Antrim and Michael Bradley says all involved are eager to get going when they face Dublin at Navan's Páirc Tailteann on Saturday.

The last knockout game the Saffrons played in the race for the Bob O'Keefe Cup came back in 2014 when losing to Wexford in Portlaoise, with relegation to the Christy Ring Cup following in 2015 after finishing bottom of the-then Leinster Qualifying Group.

It took five seasons for Antrim to earn the right to get back up with the big boys and having won the Joe McDonagh Cup last year, they hope to build on what was a very encouraging League campaign by delivering a performance against Mattie Kenny's charges.

"It's been a while since we've been there," said Bradley.

"It came up on one of my [social media] timelines the other day, funny enough, but it seems like yesterday down in Portlaoise. At the time, you feel you're going to be at that level every year.

"We've gone through a bit of a change recently and we're happy to be back. Off the back of a very successful year last year, thankfully we're back where we want to be in League and Championship."

Darren Gleeson's appointment as manager back in late 2019 has led to a significant upturn in Antrim's fortunes with potential now starting to translate into performances.

Having defeated Clare and Laois, plus claiming a draw against Wexford in Division One hurling this term, there is a confidence about the side that the work being put in is having the desired effect.

While some may feel that Antrim's season can already be declared a success, the players have loftier ambitions and know the cut-and-thrust of the Championship is where the ultimate tests lie.

"We've always said in Antrim that we always feel like we have the hurlers to match anyone, but he [Gleeson] has instilled belief in a lot of players," said the 27-year-old St John's clubman.

"Regarding the League campaign, a lot of people were delighted that Antrim were back in Division One, but was it a success as a whole finishing with five points from 10?

"We're content but not fully satisfied. If the season ended now, would it be a success? Probably not. We want to keep driving on and going at it."

One of the two defeats in the League came against Dublin on a day when Antrim just didn't reach the level of performance they know they can.

Eight points separated the teams at the final whistle, but were it not for some stunning saves by Ryan Elliott in goal, that margin could have been much greater.

To close that gap, Antrim know they will need a much better display. They have proven such a performance is in them, so it is about delivering this weekend.

"We're very aware of the challenge at hand.

"Dublin are a great side, very physical and tactically aware. They are a serious team and one you would consider to be there at the latter stages of the summer, so we have a serious challenge on our hands. But look, we have always spoken about the level we want to be at in Antrim and this is it.

"We have had five games in the League that were tougher as they went on and Championship is going to be no different. This is where we want to be and we feel like this is an opportunity at the weekend to put the hand up and prove ourselves."

Meanwhile, Dublin will be without forward Eamonn Dillon for Saturday’s game after he picked up an injury in training.

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Hurling and camogie