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Skipper Neil McManus urges fans to roar on Antrim

By John Campbell

Familiarity certainly does not breed contempt when it comes to Antrim's relationship with Offaly in a hurling context. In the draw for the All-Ireland qualifiers, the counties have been pitted against each other for what will be the third time this year.

The teams have already met twice in the Allianz League with Antrim winning the crucial relegation play-off tie that meant they retained their Division One status.

That sent the Saffrons into the Leinster Championship in buoyant mood and victories over Carlow, Westmeath, Laois and London heightened the belief that they could channel their way into the closing stages.

But Wexford proved an insurmountable barrier, thus consigning Kevin Ryan's charges to the qualifiers with the hope now re-born that their championship season can be extended.

And the fact that the further renewal of acquaintance with Offaly will take place in Ballycastle triggers the belief that the midland outfit can be tamed once again.

But Antrim skipper Neil McManus pinpoints what he believes is a key element to the fixture.

"I think it is essential that Antrim fans come out in decent numbers to this game," states McManus. "We were fervently hoping that we would be drawn at home and now the important thing is that the fans get behind the side.

"We had a bit of a run in the Leinster Championship and the team has gained in experience. The strongholds of hurling in Antrim tend to be sparsely populated and this means that we need maximum numbers from such areas to get behind the team.

"With the right support, I think we could get over Offaly."

Antrim are of course automatically through to the Ulster final in which they will meet either Down or Derry next month, having retained the 2013 provincial crown when they beat Down in February of this year.

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