Antrim face sweat on key men ahead of crunch clash with Laois
ANTRIM are sweating on the fitness of some key men ahead of Sunday’s crunch clash against Laois – with Neil McManus among those doubtful after picking up a calf injury in defeat to Waterford, while captain and Cushendall club-mate Eoghan Campbell is suspended.
The Saffrons lost Campbell to a straight red card after 22 minutes following an off the ball incident with Reuben Halloran, while McManus had to leave the action after half-time.
Dunloy forward Seann Elliott will also be assessed ahead of Sunday after concussion forced him out at half-time against the Deise, but a shoulder injury sustained in the first half at Fraher Field means Conall Bohill is unavailable.
However, St John’s club-mate Domhnall Nugent – who hasn’t featured this year after undergoing ankle surgery last November – has returned to training in recent weeks and could be involved against Laois.
It is a huge game as Antrim bid to avoid ending up in a Division One relegation play-off for the second campaign in-a-row, the Saffrons having saved their skins with victory over Offaly last year.
And boss Darren Gleeson has urged the county faithful to come out and show their support for the Saffrons at Corrigan Park for Sunday’s winner-takes-all clash.
“If you don’t win this, sure the last game [against Tipperary at Corrigan Park] is irrelevant,” said the Tipp All-Ireland winner.
“It’s a must-win game for both counties, whoever loses is in a relegation play-off no matter what happens in the last game.
“Last year Laois came with the intensity and the attitude to get a win, we didn’t come with the intensity I would expect of the group. Laois made their drive for it, got their two points and we had to go on then to the play-off.
“It’s great to have the game in Corrigan this time, and the crowd has to get in behind us. We had a great home crowd there against Kilkenny, and this is the weekend we need people to come out.
“The easy thing is to come out and watch Tipperary or Kilkenny in Belfast, but these are the days you need the home support to get in behind you, to drive the emotions and drive the intensity.”
It has been a case of close but no cigar for the Saffrons thus far, with Kilkenny, Dublin and Waterford all able to keep Antrim at bay in the end.
For Gleeson, though, perspective is always at hand as he looks at the development of the panel – and other objectives as the year wears on.
“The guys know what we’re trying to do,” he said.
“If you look at the first three matches, Kilkenny were last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists, Waterford beaten All-Ireland finalists the year before that, you’ve Dublin away in Parnell… they’re the matches the guys want to be playing, and they are performing to a high level relative to where we’re coming from the last couple of years.
“I would look at our players as a really resilient bunch of people, they don’t just take positives out of everything – we learn from why we’re not getting over the line. The areas where we get caught one day, we normally improve on them the next day. It’s just to bring them all together on the right day.
“There’s also a big focus from Antrim on the League, looking in at it, but we are training hard through the League as well to have ourselves right for Championship.
“They can see their hurling improving, they can see themselves improving physically, so they are getting something out of it as well.”