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Antrim absorb Offaly lesson

This time we will get our timing just right, says Saffrons hurling boss Ryan

By Declan Bogue

Arriving at the ground an hour behind schedule was never going to do any favours for Antrim's preparations in their match against Offaly on Sunday, but given the team manager Kevin Ryan named to start, it was clear that the result was far from important.

Speaking about the delay in getting to O'Connor Park, Tullamore, Ryan explained, "We thought it was a 3pm start. That seriously threw us off and may have had something to do with the first half.

"I came in the gate at ten to two myself, so it was a panic to get out there.

"You are allowed 15 minutes if you are travelling and things go wrong. I won't use it as an excuse.

"It's something we could have done without and could have used a bit more co-operation from the referee."

While he says he is not using it as an excuse, the notion of an honest mistake seems barely plausible.

The GAA send out the list of weekend fixtures at the start of each week and given that every other league game on Sunday was set for a 2pm throw-in, the claim that Antrim knew nothing of this would stretch the imagination.

Another indicator that Ryan can instantly make peace with this result came in team selection. Only four players that ran Cork close the previous week in Ballycastle started this one and the usual big-name players with experience were left off, the panel only travelling with 19 players.

Perhaps as a result of getting no warm-up, Antrim were 2-7 to 0-1 down after 10 minutes, and 5-16 to 1-3 at half-time.

Three PJ O'Connell goals took the appalling look off an already bad scoreline by the end, but this game was essentially a dead-rubber match, Ryan assessing it as such after the final whistle.

Speaking about what he learned from the 21-point-defeat, he said, "There are a few lads that we learned just aren't up to it and some are going by the second half. That's all we can take from it, but we got a lesson in the first half.

"Last week's result meant nothing either. We could have won the two games and you are still in the same situation but last week's was similar in that you are looking fellas to put their hand up to claim a jersey.

"It was the same (against Offaly). There were changes to personnel alright, but it worked a bit last week whereas the same fellas didn't show up (for Offaly)."

Antrim's league season comes down to this Sunday, when they face Offaly again in Ballycastle.

In narrow defeats to Wexford and Cork at Pairc Mac Uilin this season, the Saffrons have shown themselves to be organised, passionate and disciplined if wasteful in front of goal.

They also now have an slight air of mystique after fielding a fringe team, although Ryan was gently playing down their chances in the relegation play-off, not discounting the possibility of having to see off either of the top two teams in Division 2A who are looking to gain entry to Division 1B at the expense of either Antrim or Offaly.

"Looking at that," he said, "you can look forward to us playing Carlow or Kerry two weeks after.

"One way or the other, we are preparing for every scenario – you have to do that."

In the other corner, Offaly boss and Team of the Millennium member Brian Whelehan knew that he had been engaged in a game of bluff at Tullamore.

"We could take nothing from this," was his overall opinion.

"In fairness to the lads that went out in the second half, they were clinical and opened a lead – it's all they could have done."

Groping for something to 'work on' for the next game, he commented, "I was disappointed in the second half to be honest.

"We backed off a lot and allowed Antrim to come at us. They showed up some deficiencies when they came at us and that's worrying going into next Sunday."

After the phoney war, he knows there will be absolute war this weekend.

There will be no squads trimmed down to 19 and you can be assured that Antrim's players and management will know the right time to turn up.

"We are going up to Ballycastle and I'm sure there will be a warm welcome for us there," said Whelehan.

"They ran Cork to three points up there and were in control of the game for long periods, so it's a big challenge but one we have to meet head on."

Antrim are down to play Westmeath at a home venue to be confirmed on April 27 in the qualifying rounds of the Leinster Championship.

But with such an important league game for their young squad, their championship starts now.

Belfast Telegraph

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