Saffrons bidding to move through the gears
Antrim will shortly take their baptism in the demanding environment of Division 1B of the Allianz Hurling League and this is one of the reasons why their management team is particularly keen to see an impressive performance against Down in tonight's Conor McGurk Cup final at The Dub, Upper Malone, Belfast (7.00pm).
They may have fielded something akin to a shadow team in their semi-final against Tyrone but the Saffrons expected to come away with more than a draw - 0-14 each - from the clash with Mattie Lennon's side.
For the decider against a Down side which overpowered Donegal by 5-22 to 1-13 in the other semi, Antrim will make a number of changes and players will now be expected to step up smartly to the mark.
"Obviously the league is just around the corner and it's important that we get our cohesion going," warns management spokesman Dominic McKinley.
"We will be coming up against some big teams in the weeks ahead."
Deaghlan Murphy and Nicky McKeague along with the experienced Neil McManus are expected to carry a big scoring threat for the Ulster champions who will find that Down are not bereft of scoring power.
Eoghan Sands, Declan McManus, Daithi Sands and Ryan Brannigan are players who have been on fire in the Conor McGurk Cup and they can make an impact against the Saffrons.
Down selector Ronan Sheehan acknowledges that his team face a stiff examination.
"While both teams will be missing some players, it will still be quite a battle. We have to try and hit the ground running in this one," maintains Sheehan.
Meanwhile, the Ulster club U21 tournament swings into action at the Creggan Kickhams club today with the meeting of Donegal representatives Ghaoth Dobhair and Belfast outfit O'Donovan Rossa (12.30).
Tomorrow will see what should prove to be two fascinating games when Armagh side Crossmaglen Rangers and Cavan's Southern Gaels meet (12.30) prior to the head to head between Derry side Lavey and Tyrone outfit Galbally.