A REPEAT of last year’s fixture, rather than a reversal, but Antrim will feel they’re better-placed to achieve the latter in terms of outcome rather than Offaly recording the former.
The Faithful footballers came to Corrigan and won in the opening round of 2023, but much has changed for them since then. The sudden death of then manager Liam Kearns soon after rocked the county and their season never really recovered.
Hopes were raised again when Declan Kelly, who oversaw a stunning All-Ireland U20 triumph in 2021, succeeded interim boss Martin Murphy as manager last summer.
The Kilclonfert clubman not only had plenty of time to prepare for this campaign, he had deep knowledge of the swathe of young stars expected to present an Offaly bright future.
The Edenderry duo of Lee Pearson and Rory Egan had already marked out places in defence last season and the former has been chosen as new county captain by Kelly.
A host of others from that successful U20 side are also in the reckoning, with John Furlong, Cormac Egan, Cathal Donoghue, and Cathal Flynn earning starts in their league opener, while Jack Bryant, Aaron Kellaghan, Keith O’Neill, and Morgan Tynan were in the squad.
Despite the familiarity of all those players, the Declan Kelly era started with defeat, at home to neighbours Westmeath.
Antrim began much more brightly in Andy McEntee’s second season in charge. The Saffrons had an unfortunate knack of losing tight games last year, but they won well in Limerick, by 2-14 to 2-7.
The Meath man successfully re-deployed Eunan Walsh at full back, behind the solid Joseph Finnegan at centre half back, and the experience overall in defence allowed Kavan Keenan to make a confident League debut.
Similarly, a core of established players further forward were augmented by fresher faces in another debut-maker Niall Burns, and Eoin Hynds, Colm McLarnon, and Cormac McGettigan.
The test, as so often, for Antrim is to produce consistency, in performance and results.
The hope must be that Rossa forward Dominic McEnhill can continue his fine form of recent times, including 1-6 away to Limerick, and perhaps Ruairi McCann of Aghagallon may be fit to join his namesake from Creggan in the attack.
The Saffrons started strongly last weekend, albeit with the wind; they have the ability to take another step towards being promotion contenders against an Offaly side still trying to find its feet.