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Antrim need to hit winning note again: McKinley

 

By John Campbell

They may have surrendered their place in hurling's top tier at the end of the Allianz League, but Antrim remain focussed on taking a step closer to joining the elite in a championship context by winning the Joe McDonagh Cup.

To do that, though, joint manager Dominic McKinley believes that they must get the better of Westmeath on Saturday at Cusack Park, Mullingar.

Wins over Meath and Carlow set the Saffrons' morale soaring before defeat to Laois, coupled with other results, proved a reality check.

Yet even though Joe Maskey and Michael Armstrong remain out of action because of injuries, McKinley still believes that the spirit within the side allied to their ambition can still see them make progress.

"This is a must-win game from our perspective, there's no other way of putting it," states McKinley. "Obviously the loss of Joe and Michael is a big blow but we have to get on with it.

"Neil McManus came back into action quickly the last day after receiving a distressing injury and that was a bonus for us. Hopefully he will do the business again for us on Saturday."

The exciting James McNaugton is set to replace Maskey at midfield alongside the more experienced Eoghan Campbell, while John Dillon, Aaron Graffin and skipper Conor McKinley will underpin the defence.

Conor Johnston and Ciaran Clarke are two talented forwards who are maturing rapidly and the Antrim management are keen to see them relieve McManus of the lion's share of the scoring burden.

"It's always good to get a spread of scorers if that is possible. We feel we have decent players in there who can turn possession to good account. It will be very important that we take our chances because we know that Westmeath have players who can finish well," adds McKinley.

In the Christy Ring Cup on Saturday, Armagh will host London at the Athletic Grounds (1pm) and Derry will meet Down (1pm), while Tyrone will travel to face Leitrim in the Nicky Rackard Cup.

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