Antrim should seal Joe McDonagh Cup Final place away to Meath
Joe McDonagh Cup: Meath v Antrim (Pairc Tailteann, Sunday, 1pm)
A PLACE in the Joe McDonagh Cup final is in the sights of Antrim's hurlers and they will stamp their ticket to Croke Park should they overcome Meath at Pairc Tailteann tomorrow.
The Saffrons opened the competition as favourites to go all the way and while they have had to dig results out late against Offaly and Carlow, they still remain the only side with a 100 per cent record and require just two points to book their spot in the final and a place in the All-Ireland Qualifiers.
Being able to do so with a game to spare would be a huge boost for Darren Gleeson's charges and they will be strong favourites to do just that as they head to Navan to face a Meath team that has struggled this year, shipping defeats of 25 and 30 points to Carlow and Kerry respectively, while they did get to within nine against Offaly.
The last time these counties met was in the 2020 McDonagh Cup when Antrim scored a comprehensive win and they will be hoping for another strong performance, but with The Royals scrapping to beat the drop to the Christy Ring Cup, Gleeson is urging caution.
"Meath haven't had a great year so far and we are wary they are going to be fighting for their lives to stay in the Joe McDonagh," he said.
"This is their last home match so we have to be fully armed going in this weekend as they're going to fight for everything.
"We're the same as we're trying to get into the Joe McDonagh final and have two chances. The first is this weekend against Meath and we'd like to take it.
"We know where we want to get to, but we won't get there without full focus and concentration on Meath this weekend. Anything can happen in a game of hurling and we are well aware of this heading into the weekend."
It has been a revolving door to the Antrim treatment room this year and Ciaran Clarke is the latest to be sidelined.
His loss with be keenly felt given the excellent performances posted by the Ballycastle man who has really come alive in the half-forward line.
Damon McMullan is yet to line out this year and remains on the sideline, while Neil McManus - injured against Carlow - also misses out.
Back-up goalkeeper Paul McMullan is also facing a spell out after picking up a hand injury on club duty for Glenariffe at the weekend, while Keelan Molloy and Conor Johnston are working their way back to fitness, although Matthew Donnelly and David Kearney may be ready to return after Niall McKenna, Michael Bradley and Conal Bohill all saw game time against Carlow.
Getting the job done tomorrow would take a little pressure off and allow Antrim to zone in on that June 4 decider instead of potentially risking the walking wounded next week against Kerry.
The hosts have plenty to play for too, but it is hard to see past anything other than an Antrim victory.