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McKeegan in line to lead the Saffrons

By John Campbell

The Antrim management could find themselves lumbered with an important decision prior to their team lining up against Galway in the All Ireland Hurling Qualifiers at Casement Park, Belfast on Saturday (3.30).

Dominic McKinley and Terence McNaughton have seen both Sean Delargey and Paddy Richmond revel in the role of captain to date this year, the former proving a more than capable deputy when Richmond was focussed on All Ireland Club commitments with Dunloy.

But as Galway, just edged out by Tipperary in the National League final and one of the short-odds teams to win the Liam McCarthy Cup, prepare to bring their repertoire of skills to west Belfast, the Saffrons' joint bosses may have to find a third-choice captain.

Delargey is on honeymoon and Richmond, in the words of McKinley, is " touch and go" for the game because of injury.

"Obviously, it's worrying. Sean and Paddy are two of our most important players as well as being excellent leaders. We can ill-afford to be without them. Of course, we will keep hoping that Paddy will make the cut but we must have a Plan B to fall back on," admits McKinley.

Karl McKeegan, Antrim's experienced centre-half-back, may be the man to wear the captain's armband for the showdown with the Tribesmen.

McKeegan has given outstanding service to the side and is one of several seasoned players in their side for a game that should bring the fans flocking in.

The availability of Michael Magill - he could find himself in midfield along with the strongly -emerging Eddie McCluskey - and the possibility of the tenacious Mickey Kettle slotting into the defensive void created by Delargey's absence are Antrim plus-factors.

"We are fortunate to have boys like Aaron Graffin, the Herron brothers Ciaran and Michael, Liam Watson, Johnny Campbell, Karl Stewart and others in there. The team as a whole are very keen to test themselves against Galway and, with home advantage, we feel we have a chance although Galway will be in pole position," points out McKinley.

Galway showed during the National League that they have the craft, skill and, above all, the pace to make a strong bid for the All Ireland title.

"I believe their all-round pace is one of their strongest virtues. They play at one hundred miles an hour but they always manage to show great control and composure. We know what we have to do - it's a monster challenge no matter what way you look at it," admits McKinley.

Brilliant teenager Joe Canning has recovered from a bout of blood poisoning and will make his Championship debut on the All Ireland stage in a menacing full-forward line that also includes the deadly accurate Eugene Cloonan and Damien Hayes, a noted goal-scorer.

John Lee leads the side from centre-half-back while Ollie Canning and the dependable David Forde are also in the defence.

GALWAY: J Skehill; D Joyce, F Moore, O Canning; S Kavanagh, J Lee, D Forde; A Cullinane, F Healy; A Kerins, C Donnellan, I Tannian; D Hayes, E Cloonan, J Canning.

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