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Saffrons eye win to set up Wexford clash

By John Campbell

Antrim hurling manager Kevin Ryan is not one for crystal ball gazing.

The Waterford native lives in the real world, subscribing to the theory that tomorrow will look after itself.

But even the normally canny Ryan admits that he is considerably enthused by the fact that Antrim will engage in Leinster quarter-final action a week hence.

The only imponderable at this point in time is just which side will form the opposition to his troops.

That will be decided tomorrow when Antrim will face Laois in the last of the round robin series games at O'Moore Park, Portlaoise where victory would ensure that the Saffrons will meet Wexford – a relatively enticing prospect given that the Slaneysiders only got the better of them by a point in the league.

On the other hand, were Antrim to lose tomorrow, then Galway would be their opponents in the last eight and that could prove an entirely different proposition.

For the moment, though, Laois are the only side in Ryan's sights.

Antrim have had mixed fortunes against the midland outfit in recent years and expect another torrid test tomorrow.

Ryan has watched his side mature in their wins over Westmeath, Carlow and London to date but concedes that they must develop further if they are to gain real credibility in the Leinster series.

"This game against Laois will be a good examination to have a week before a quarter-final and we obviously respect it as a fourth championship game," he said.

"We were glad of a rest last weekend but we must step up our game even more."

Ryan accepts that his side were not at their best against a plucky London outfit.

"I felt, with respect to London, that we hurled at their pace. Had we got a few more in the first quarter-hour, it may have opened up," he opined.

"When that wasn't happening, we settled for winning the game by a few points. That tends to happen. If that was the likes of Kilkenny playing against London, that game would have been over in 10 minutes."

There's a clear message there. Ryan expects nothing less than a full-blooded effort from his side and to this end he is hoping that Paul Shiels, PJ O'Connell and Neil McManus can maintain their scoring prowess.

At the back, Neal McAuley and Aaron Graffin along with full-back Conor McKinley provide solid experience while the infusion of players from last year's Under 21 squad has proven a bold move.

Ryan will be urging greater technique and pace against Laois with the emphasis on getting the ball quickly into the full-forward line.

Laois boss Seamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett has watched his team replicate Antrim's three-match winning run to date and believes that home advantage will help his side tomorrow.

Skipper Matthew Whelan leads a side that is generously endowed with experience. Players such as Willie Hyland, Brian Campion and Stephen Maher are very much to the fore in this connection while the team is also laced with burgeoning youthful talent.

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