Cahill and Saffrons keeping up promotion challenge
When Antrim overcame Carlow and Kildare in their opening two games in Division Two of the National Hurling League it was suggested that the team was unconvincing in amassing their four early points.
Considerable substance was lent to this view when the Saffrons were on the receiving end of a heavy defeat from Laois last weekend — a defeat that has impacted on their morale in advance of tomorrow’s game against Clare at Casement Park; a game which has taken on more importance.
With Liam Watson having been red-carded against Laois and two players who are normally forwards — Paul Shields and Shane McNaughton — deployed in midfield it can be quickly seen that the Saffrons resources are a little modest.
Johnny Campbell is still recovering from injury while Karol Stewart has been involved in St Gall’s All Ireland Club football odyssey which means that manager Dinny Cahill has been stripped of two quality players.
Nonetheless, Cahill knows that a spirited display against Ger O’Loughlin’s side tomorrow could help to keep his side in the promotion frame, although as things stand Clare and Wexford are the likely sides to go up.
O’Loughlin has drafted in several players from last year’s All Ireland Under-21 winning squad and they are complementing his more established personnel which means that even with home advantage tomorrow Antrim will face a very difficult task.
The absence of Watson, who had just been settling into the side again, is a blow as his free-taking had been in evidence in the earlier matches.
However, Shields — back in action after a prolonged spell on the sidelines because of a hip problem — and McNaughton can bring energy and skill to the table should they again be required to underpin the central area.
And while Antrim seek to keep in touch with the pacesetters, Down will be in search of a lifeline when they confront Kildare at Newbridge.
Gerard Monan’s side have yet to pick up a point in the league although they showed improved form against Carlow at Ballygalget last Sunday.
In his first season in charge, Monan is without some key players, but remains optimistic that his team can turn the corner.
Kildare have won once in three outings, but can prove difficult opponents at home.