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Saffrons are relishing the challenge of trying to gain elite status, says McKinley

By John Campbell

Dominic McKinley is relieved that Antrim have retained their place in the Joe McDonagh Cup but expects to see more evidence provided tomorrow as to just what the Saffrons have to do to gain entry to the top bracket.

Antrim's joint boss believes that the Leinster hurling final replay between Galway and Kilkenny at Semple Stadium, Thurles will prove every bit as absorbing as the drawn match between the counties last weekend.

It was a late TJ Reid point in that contest which gave Kilkenny the right to fight another day and tomorrow they will go into battle again knowing that their opponents will still be desperately keen to take another step towards their goal of back-to-back All-Ireland titles.

"When you look at the quality that teams such as Galway and Kilkenny can bring to the table, you just see how far we have to go to catch up with them but that is the challenge for us," observed McKinley. "You want to be playing against the big teams. We had an opportunity to do that in Division One this year but we suffered relegation in the league and the battle to climb up will start all over again next year."

Galway's emergence as a hurling superpower has brought a fresh dimension not only to the Leinster Championship but to the All-Ireland series.

Tomorrow they will seek to put one over Brian Cody's side knowing that such a win would do more for their morale than anything given Kilkenny's imposing status within a sport they have dominated for so long.

Galway's pace and finishing power can again stand them in good stead with players such as Joe Canning, Joseph Cooney, Cathal Mannion, David Burke and Niall Burke very much to the fore.

Kilkenny, tough and resilient, plan to step up their effort even further following the manner in which they diced with danger last weekend before earning tomorrow's replay courtesy of Reid's 72nd-minute point.

Their team may have undergone something of a transition but in Reid, Colin Fennelly, Paul Murphy, Ritchie Hogan and Padraig Walsh they have exceptionally gifted players who can make life hard for the Tribesmen.

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