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McKinley lays it on the line as Antrim bid to keep their status in McDonagh Cup

By John Campbell

First it was the footballers of Kildare who took the GAA authorities to task when today's All-Ireland qualifier against Mayo was initially fixed for Croke Park before a robust and very public protest saw the tie re-fixed for St Conleth's Park, Newbridge.

Now the Kildare hurlers have united with their Antrim counterparts in denouncing the need to stage today's Joe McDonagh Cup promotion/relegation shoot-out at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh (12.45pm) and criticising the decision to make the competition a five-team event next year.

Kildare feel they are entitled to automatic promotion to the Joe McDonagh Cup by virtue of their win over London in the Christy Ring Cup final last week-end. Antrim find themselves going into today's game because, having finished level on points with Laois, they must now fight to stay in the competition because Laois came out on top in the head-to-head tie between the counties.

While frustration prevails within the Saffrons' camp, nevertheless joint manager Dominic McKinley paints a stark picture of precisely just where the team finds itself.

"If we are being truthful, we have to acknowledge that we knew the rules before the competition got under way. Obviously the players from both counties have made their views known but now we have to get on with things," McKinley said.

"Regardless of today's result, the Joe McDonagh Cup will only embrace five teams next year and that is disappointing."

Even the Gaelic Player Association has got in on the act, insisting that "lessons must be learned" from this and said that it must be involved in any future review of the competition to ensure that the players' voices are heard.

Antrim will be without their talented forward Ciaran Clarke, normally a rich source of scores, for the game because of work commitments.

But in Aaron Graffin, Neil McManus, Eoghan Campbell, Nigel Elliott, Conor Johnston, Matthew Donnelly and skipper Conor McKinley, the Ulster side boasts a solid core of experience that could perhaps help their side get the victory.

Belfast Telegraph

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