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Antrim hurlers hold all the aces in big Ulster derby clash against Armagh

By Declan Bogue

The top two sides in Ulster meet in Division 2A of the Allianz Hurling League tomorrow, both looking for something quite different at this stage of proceedings.

Antrim and Armagh face off in the Athletic Grounds and while the Saffrons are seeking to extend their unbeaten record, the Orchard county are chasing their first win of the season, locked at the bottom of the table with just a draw against London to their name.

This week, Antrim's joint-manager Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton revealed that his group of hurlers hadn't even seen a hurling stick for the first two months of pre-season training. The thinking behind that was to 'climb the mountain and see who was there on top of it with us'.

To that end, they brought in former football All-Ireland winning Down captain DJ Kane to look after their strength and conditioning programme, which has been described by players as the toughest they have endured in their time.

"Last year's preparations weren't as good," said captain Simon McCrory.

"We were sort of disjointed and had less time together as a panel. This year we have had two months together and we found out who really wanted to be there.

"That's resulted in a really tight panel and a togetherness that seems to be getting us over the line in these games against the tougher teams."

Antrim showed reserves of character to draw away to Carlow, while last weekend scenic Cushendall hosted their two-point win over Kildare.

Armagh suffered a 22-point defeat away to Westmeath last weekend, which was a blow following their draw at home to London in the previous game.

In Division 2B, Down hurlers continue their seemingly never-ending ambition of gaining promotion when they face old and familiar opponents Wicklow in Arklow.

This is a dangerous trip with the Garden county already having taken care of Roscommon and Derry without any real trouble, and they also accounted for Meath.

Roscommon, coming off the back of two losses to date, are visiting Owenbeg this weekend and facing a Derry side low on confidence after their 10-point defeat last weekend to Wicklow.

Further down the food chain, there is an all-Ulster derby when Donegal have Monaghan over in Letterkenny.

This is the second time these teams have met due to the nature of the league this year with all teams playing each other on a home and away basis.

In their first clash Donegal were actually leading by four points heading down the stretch but, somehow, Monaghan managed to eke out the win in Castleblayney.

Tyrone host Louth in Carrickmore.

When they met previously in the campaign the Red Hands managed to put 19 points up on the Wee county and would be expected to do something similar here.

Tyrone's problems have been in putting together performances against Donegal and Monaghan.

There is camogie action in the Littlewoods Leagues this weekend, with four Ulster teams in action.

Derry face Down tomorrow and could benefit from an influx of the All-Ireland winning Slaughtneil contingent.

Cork host Armagh and Ciara Donnelly - who was playing for Eglish in their All-Ireland final defeat - could also make herself available in what appears an enormous task at this vantage.

The Rebellettes have already taken care of Galway and Westmeath so far in the league and it seems their good run of form is set to continue.

Elsewhere, Antrim are in action away to Kildare.

Dual player Shannon Graham could be coaxed back into the set-up after finishing her club duties with Slaughtneil, and after a victory over Armagh in the last day out, Saffrons boss Aidan McKeown will be hoping to maintain their winning start.

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