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McNaughton can provide spark for Saffrons

By John Campbell

Antrim hurlers still retain a strong focus on the Joe McDonagh Cup despite a recent defeat to Laois that adds to the pressure going into today's contest against Westmeath at Cusack Park, Mullingar (3pm).

The Saffrons certainly have not had their sorrows to seek so far in the competition, as Joe Maskey and Michael Armstrong have been ruled out for the rest of the season leaving the management team with selection issues.

But with the exciting James McNaughton available again having completed his U20 duty, there is the prospect that the Saffrons might perform better at midfield.

Management spokesman Dominic McKinley urged the team to turn in a big performance if they are to have any chance of making an impact in the closing stages of the competition.

"Westmeath are a sticky side but we have to believe in ourselves," McKinley insisted.

"We have had a couple of good wins under our belts but we need to reach a higher level if we can.

"There is no doubt that the competition is hotting up and we have a couple of very difficult games ahead of us."

While Neil McManus and Nigel Elliott will bolster Antrim's scoring hopes, Aaron Graffin, John Dullon and Conor McKinley can help shore up their defence.

Skipper McKinley is leading by fine example but he acknowledged that Westmeath represent a stiff hurdle for his side.

"They can be a difficult side to play against so it's important that we get into our stride quickly and take the game to them," McKinley said.

In the Christy Ring Cup, Derry host Down at Watty Graham Park today (1pm) and face a tough task against Martin Mallon's men who have been moving well in the competition.

Paul Sheehan, Declan McManus and Danny Toner have been on fire for Down and the side could take a steep closer to the trophy this afternoon. For, Armagh, though it has been a season of disappointment and they are unlikely to derive any satisfaction from the visit of London to the Athletic Grounds this afternoon (1pm).

Tyrone, meanwhile, hope to keep the Ulster flag flying in the Lory Meagher Cup when they meet Leitrim at Carrick-on-Shannon today (3pm).

The Red Hands have tended to blow hot and cold in the competition, but if sharpshooter Damien Casey is on form, they look capable of gaining maximum points from their visit to Leitrim.

Tyrone manager Mattie Lennon said he believes that his side are capable of raising their game in the contest.

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