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Doherty is calling on St John's to raise their game to the next level in quest for Antrim crown

By John Campbell

Armagh goalkeeper Simon Doherty may have endured his ups and downs at inter-county level this year, but right now he is strongly focused on driving St John's onwards in the Antrim Senior Hurling Championship.

The west Belfast side got the better of McQuillans, Ballycastle in both legs of their most recent mission, but now they face a much stiffer task against a strong Loughgiel side who will have home advantage tomorrow (12.30pm).

For St John's, this will represent a significant examination of their skills and Doherty is conscious that his team will have to show a further step up in form.

"While we were pleased to overcome McQuillans over the two legs, we know that Loughgiel will be a different proposition. They have a fair bit of experience in their side and they also have good finishers in their attack," stated Doherty.

St John's, though, are not exactly short on firepower. Conor Johnston is one of the best forwards in the province, while Donal Carson, Michael Dudley and Shea Shannon form a potentially dangerous full-forward line.

Loughgiel, of course, possess a match-winner in the experienced Liam Watson, who is back from injury and playing with renewed vigour. Watson's predatory instincts have sustained him during a colourful career to date and he is likely to cut loose if afforded time and space.

Shan McGrath is another player who can trouble the St John's defence as Loughgiel bid to make further progress.

Today, reigning champions Dunloy face Sarsfields (4.30pm) and will be keen to take another step towards retaining their title.

Manager Gregory O'Kane can still look to a seasoned corps of players to underpin his team's bid for further glory, with James McKeague, Kevin Molloy, Paul Shiels, Keelan Molloy, Nigel Elliot, Eoin O'Neill and Ryan Elliott very much to the fore.

Shiels and Nigel Elliott are among the old hands in the side, and the former has been showing the kind of form lately that helped make him one of the leading players in the province not so very long ago.

"It's great to have won the Championship last year, and obviously we have our sights fixed on trying to retain it this time round but we know that this won't be easy," said the versatile Shiels, who rendered outstanding service to Antrim in the past.

Elliott was in fine fettle for the Saffrons earlier in the year, his ability to pick off scores serving the team well in the league and the Joe McDonagh Cup competition.

Sarsfields manager Kevin McKernan is perhaps not so well endowed with talent but, while his side will enter the fray as underdogs, they are nonetheless capable of producing their traditional battling qualities.

They may be a Division Two outfit, but McKernan has inculcated a level of resilience and spirit within his side that could make things difficult for the reigning champions.

Meanwhile, it is understood that work is proceeding behind the scenes to bring a resolution to the Antrim managerial situation.

Dominic McKinley, Terence McNaughton, Gary O'Kane and Neal Pedan had been expected to step down at some point last month, but any decision on their future was then put on hold until September 17.

It is believed that efforts may be made in the interim to persuade the quartet to have a re-think, although the indications are that they may wish to adhere to their collective decision to take their exit of the inter-county stage.

Several newcomers were successfully introduced to the Antrim squad lately and there is a feeling within some quarters that the team might just be able to gain promotion from Division Two next year, something that would certainly be welcomed in the county.

Belfast Telegraph

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