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Antrim keen to hit ground running despite missing spate of regulars


Tough schedule: Gary O’Kane admits Antrim will be tested
Tough schedule: Gary O’Kane admits Antrim will be tested
John Campbell

By John Campbell

The Antrim hurling team management certainly do not have their sorrows to seek as they head into tomorrow's Allianz League Division 2A opener against Kerry at Corrigan Park, Belfast (2.00pm).

Following the defection of a number of players who have terminated their involvement with the team, five other players - Eoghan Campbell, Neil McManus, Paddy Burke, Ryan McCambridge and David Kearney - are unavailable because of Cushendall's forthcoming All-Ireland senior club semi-final against Galway side St Thomas.

To further compound the management headaches, Joe Maskey is preparing for the All-Ireland intermediate club football final in which St Enda's will play Kerry side Kilcummin at Croke Park on Saturday, February 9.

The Saffrons go into this week-end's game still feeling the hurt after their penalty shoot-out loss to Westmeath in the final of the Kehoe Cup earlier this month.

And there is too the possibility that the long-serving Simon McCrory could be another absentee. McCrory has been nursing a hamstring strain and a decision on his fitness will be deferred until the eleventh hour.

Yet while Antrim's hopes of an early league boost have been blighted somewhat, management spokesman Gary O'Kane is keen to emphasise what he sees as the positives.

"We have still a core of experienced players in the side which includes Matthew Donnelly, John Dillon, Conor McCann and of course Simon McCrory while a number of more recent recruits including Keelan Molloy, James O'Connell, Sean Duffin and James McNaughton have been making their presence felt which is very encouraging," points out O'Kane.

Kerry will travel north in the hope of building on their impressive form of last year and will certainly pose a major threat to Antrim's hopes of beginning their league campaign with a win.

It will get no easier for the Saffrons either. They will then have to confront Mayo, Meath, Westmeath and London in the league before embarking on their Joe McDonagh Cup programme in which they will again confront Kerry as well as Westmeath, Laois and Offaly.

"We're facing into a demanding itinerary, that's for sure, but hopefully as time goes on we will have players returning to the squad following their other commitments and this should see competition for places stepped up which is what we would want," adds O'Kane.

Antrim manager Neal Peden, while satisfied with his team's effort in the Kehoe Cup, maintains that they they have no time to waste and need to hit the ground running in the league when they begin their campaign tomorrow.

"Obviously we have our eyes fixed on promotion and in this context it's important to get encouragement from early results," states Peden.

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