Hurling & Camogie

Antrim hurlers need discipline to take on Carlow: Johnny Campbell

The Antrim players before last weekend's Joe McDonagh Cup round two match at Ballycran against Down. <br />Pic Philip Walsh
The Antrim players before last weekend's Joe McDonagh Cup round two match at Ballycran against Down.
Pic Philip Walsh
The Antrim players before last weekend's Joe McDonagh Cup round two match at Ballycran against Down.
Pic Philip Walsh

ANTRIM senior hurling selector Johnny Campbell laughed at the irony of his preaching discipline just minutes after being yellow-carded for going onto the pitch.

Yet the Loughgiel man knows the Saffron players will still need to follow his words, not his deeds, if they're to maintain their winning start to the Joe McDonagh Cup against recent rivals Carlow this Saturday lunchtime.

Antrim were comfortable winners against their ancient foes from Down, in a largely tame affair at Ballycran, cruising to a 15-point victory, 6-22 to 3-16. Campbell's venture over the white line was aimed at breaking up a minor tussle, with the game effectively shortly after half-time, certainly long before that injury time incident.

The visiting forwards' accuracy, and goal-grabbing caught the eye, but Campbell also noticed their work-rate, commenting:

"Some of our forwards' tackling was really top-drawer, the turnovers and scores we got from that were important, so it's just about having that discipline and seeing where it takes us."

He needs no reminding of recent battles against Carlow, and admitted that "We stole a draw, there's no doubt about that" when a last-gasp goal from Domhnall Nugent earned a point in their delayed 2020 McDonagh encounter at Hallowe'en Down in Dr Cullen Park, the hosts held 2-25 to 5-16.

Antrim won their other three group games, and the subsequent final against Kerry, to take them into top level hurling, while Carlow have not been able to get out of Division Two again.

This coming weekend's clash at Corrigan Park is likely to be tight, however, even though - or perhaps because - like Down, Carlow suffered a 15-point home defeat on Sunday past, losing out by 0-15 to 3-21 against Kerry.

With Antrim having edged out Offaly in their opener, a home victory would take Darren Gleeson's men a step closer to the McDonagh Final and one of two places in this year's All-Ireland preliminary quarter-finals, against one of the teams which finish third in Leinster or Munster.

A defeat for the visitors would leave them in serious trouble, though, with tricky games to come against Down and Offaly.

As if that all wasn't enough spice in the mix, there's bad blood, and broken bones, between Antrim and Carlow.

The Barrowsiders crossed a line into thuggery during the inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup in 2018, having three players sent off at this Saturday's venue. Neil McManus had to get six stitches for the incident that led to one of those, while Michael Armstrong had an arm broken in two places in an assault which went unpunished.

While Antrim won that battle, by 2-16 to 0-19, they lost the war, edged out in all three of their remaining group matches, requiring them to win a play-off against Kildare to avoid relegation.

What's worse, Carlow went on to win the McDonagh Final and earn promotion.

Four years on, Antrim avoided relegation from Division 1(B) by beating Offaly in a play-off, while Carlow only finished fourth in Division 2A, although they did defeat eventual champions Westmeath.

Antrim know that Carlow are capable of posing problems, especially of the Saffrons concede goals as they did on Sunday: "Some of the scores we gave away, we'll look at that," said Campbell. "There were a lot of positives, but there's still work to be done."

However, he did praise the attacking accuracy shown on Sunday at McKenna Park, saying: "I think in the first half we had 15 scores from 22 shots, something like that - you'd take that any day. That's down to the boys getting into the right positions, smart shooting, not panicking, showing a bit of composure."

The Saffron's panel depth also pleased him: "We brought on five subs again, and we do have injuries, so that's a great testament to the squad we have."

Those elements contributed to a handsome win, which Campbell acknowledged would help during this packed schedule of matches: "It's hectic, week on week - momentum gives you so much energy, it makes training for us that small bit easier.

"But Carlow up at Corrigan always give us a tough test, we look no further than that there."