Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Antrim eye a step up in the world

Antrim defender Aaron Graffin is hoping to keep the Offaly attack at bay in Sunday's crucial National Hurling League DivisionTwo showdown

His team might well have had their place in the National Hurling League Division Two final already booked had they not slipped up against Carlow and Westmeath.

The Saffrons took just one point from these two games, meaning that they now enter a sporting pressure-cooker against Offaly at O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Sunday (2.30) when nothing less than outright victory will copper-fasten their place in the divisional decider, most likely against Wexford.

“We maybe could have saved ourselves a lot of hassle had we got something more out of those meetings with Carlow and Westmeath but we must now go with what is in front of us. We have a chance to get into the final and it’s up to us to take it,” insists McKinley.

Ironically, when the Saffrons travelled to face Carlow, they were bolstered by the return of their Cushendall contingent following their All Ireland Club semi-final exertions.

Yet it made little difference on the day.

But now McKinley is more confident that Antrim can produce greater fluency, poise and scoring power against an Offaly side who have set a hot pace since the start of the league.

“I think we have absorbed lessons from our recent games. We know what we need to do,” admits McKinley.

Key defender Johnny Campbell was an absentee recently while Paddy Richmond was also out of the equation but they are expected to be back for Sunday.

Neil McGarry, Aaron Graffin, Michael Herron, Paul Shields and Cormac Donnelly are all expected to prop up Antrim’s bid to reach the divisional final.

“We have some players who have been very consistent over the course of the league and now we have a few extra options. But we really need to get into our stride early against Offaly if we can and make our chances count,” adds McKinley.

It’s not just in the context of the National League that McKinley is hoping for an impressive show from his troops on Sunday.

With Antrim due to meet Dublin in the Leinster Championship, the national spotlight will certainly fall on the Ulster champions.

Dublin have made steady progress in Division One of the League and under former Clare captain Anthony Daly they have already put down a marker that

they could yet prove a potent championship force.

Of course, it goes without saying that Kilkenny hotter than hot favourites to emerge as Leinster champions but Antrim will certainly not allow that to prevent them from making what he describes as “a decent fist” of their debut season in the competition - something they have campaigned for vigorously for some time.

“Obviously the match against Dublin is very much in the thoughts of the players and that is understandable. But we must keep our focus very much on this week-end’s game against Offaly. These are the kind of matches in which you are really judged. We have had our ups and downs in the league so far but there’s no reason why we cannot finish on a fairly high note,” points out McKinley.

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