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Preliminary provides a tough test for Antrim hurlers

By John Campbell

A matter of weeks ago, the alluring prospect of a meeting with last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists Galway was tantalising the taste buds of Antrim's hurlers.

Confronted by what was viewed as a "manageable" course to this particular goal, Kevin Ryan's side had set their sights on the possibility of locking horns with one of the truly elite sides.

But a Leinster Championship campaign which initially spawned the hope that Antrim could finally rub shoulders with the best of them went badly wrong, when Laois overcame the Saffrons, after an earlier win over Carlow was nothing more than a false dawn.

Now Antrim, instead of pursuing a path through Leinster, are facing the prospect of meeting the losers of the Wexford v Dublin replay in the preliminary round.

Antrim skipper Neil McManus observes: "Dublin or Wexford would be very difficult opponents.

"These are two quality sides, and I believe both will benefit from the two games they will have played to decide who moves on in the Leinster Championship, and who drops into the qualifiers."

Antrim's demise in Leinster was all the harder to absorb because they had been ranked as favourites to hurdle Laois, and thus set themselves up to make a mark in the competition.

"We made things difficult for ourselves in that game and paid the penalty. Now we have to think in terms of meeting either Dublin or Wexford, and at this point in time, both are in the All-Ireland title frame," says McManus.

With Paul Shields hoping to be fit and Stephen Beatty keen to reclaim his place in attack, manager Ryan is eager to field a full-strength side for the June 22 challenge.

Last year, Antrim were utterly deflated following their surprise loss to Westmeath in Leinster.

The hope now is that they can perhaps gain what would be a proverbial mountain of credibility if they were to overcome Wexford or Dublin.

Preliminary round qualifiers draw: Offaly v Waterford, Antrim v Dublin or Wexford, London v Westmeath.

Belfast Telegraph


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