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McManus aims to power Antrim towards Croke Park showdown

 

Shooting star: Neil McManus will carry a big burden today
Shooting star: Neil McManus will carry a big burden today
John Campbell

By John Campbell

The magical scoring touch of Neil McManus will certainly be required to reinforce Antrim's chances of victory in what is their most important match of the year to date today.

It's at Dunloy that Neal Peden's team will confront Westmeath (2.00pm) with a place in the Joe McDonagh Cup final at Croke Park at stake.

McManus, for one, can't wait for the action to get under way.

"To be getting the chance to perform at Croke Park is every player's goal and it would be a massive fillip for Antrim hurling if we were to come out on top in this one," points out McManus.

"Having said that, Westmeath have been operating just outside hurling's top tier for some time and they are a very experienced and rugged side.

"They will not be fazed by having to come to Dunloy."

Antrim's thrilling win over Offaly last weekend in what is viewed as one of the best hurling championship matches of the year has triggered the hope that fans of the Saffrons will be out in huge numbers today.

"We would love to see the fans come out and get behind the team. We really do want to give them something to shout about. Westmeath are a very consistent team and we will be treating them with the greatest respect," says McManus.

While McManus has been very much to the fore in Antrim's progress to this stage of the competition, the team is by no means a one man show.

Nigel Elliott, James McNaughton, Ryan McCambridge and Ciaran Clarke have also been getting among the scores while the defence has for the most been solid although manager Peden was unhappy with the way in which Offaly were able to plunder scores last weekend.

Antrim have strength on the bench and Peden is likely to deploy these players if necessary.

"Everyone is keen to play a part in this game. There is a great bond within the squad and I think this can stand to us. If we get off on the right foot then I believe we have the character and skill to stay in the game," says Peden.

Meanwhile, there is the enticing possibility of an all-Ulster Christy Ring Cup final.

In today's semi-finals Derry will face Meath at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh (2.00pm) while Down will take on Roscommon at Inniskeen (3.00pm).

Cormac O'Doherty, Alan Grant and Se McGuigan will carry the Oak Leaf county's scoring hopes while Oisin McManus, Paul Sheehan and the Sands duo, Daithi and Eoghan, can underpin Down's bid for a final slot.

The two Ulster sides have produced some encouraging results recently and when they themselves crossed swords in the competition at Newry it was Derry who came out on top.

In the Nicky Rackard Cup, Armagh and Tyrone will clash in a semi-final at Inniskeen (2.00pm) where the match could prove something of a shoot-out between Red Hands' ace Damian Casey and Orchard county marksman Dean Gaffney.

Both players are in inspirational form which means the respective defences have to be on their guard.

In the Lory Meagher Cup Round Three, Leitrim will host Fermanagh at Carrick-on-Shannon (1.00pm) while Cavan will take on Lancashire at Ballyconnell (1.00pm).

Antrim vs Westmeath

Joe McDonagh Cup:

Dunloy, Today, 2.00pm

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