National Hurling League: Ulster sides in fight to stay up
Antrim and Down have something in common right now in a hurling context that they would like to see changed.
They are both on just two points in Division Two of the Allianz Hurling League and the prospect of defeat for either side in round four of the competition tomorrow is unthinkable.
While Antrim have home advantage against Carlow and look to have a reasonable chance of claiming maximum points, Down face a hazardous assignment against a Clare team that, while having shed some of its gloss, is still difficult to overcome at Cusack Park, Ennis.
Antrim manager Dinny Cahill (pictured) may have Karl McKeegan and Ciaran Herron back in his side while last year’s skipper Paul Shiels could be introduced from the bench now that he has recovered from a serious hip problem that has disrupted his career.
But Johnny Campbell is still troubled by an ankle injury and Liam Watson has not yet returned to the squad following his involvement with Loughgiel in the All-Ireland club semi-final against O’Loughlin Gaels.
“The fact that we have had injuries lately has allowed us to have a look at other players and I would have to say that we now have a stronger panel overall. While we are very pleased about this we would obviously be keen to get the two points against Carlow,” says Cahill.
His thirst for league points is shared by his Down counterpart Gerard Monan who has seen his side rack up impressive scores lately but without having anything to show for their efforts.
They have lost to Kerry and Limerick but Monan is hopeful that his team’s finishing will bring them better reward against Clare.
“It’s frustrating to be putting up big scores and still losing games. Hopefully we will be a little tighter against Clare — we could do with taking something from this game,” says Monan.
The meeting of Derry and Wicklow, both of whom are unbeaten in Division 3A, at Aughrim promises to be a fascinating battle.
Ruairi Convery and Mark Craig have been helping to underpin Derry’s resurgence under new manager Ger Rogan but this will be the side’s biggest test of the year to date.
Armagh, meanwhile, will approach their confrontation with Meath in Navan with some trepidation given that they have lost the three games they have played to date.
The Orchard County, for whom Paul McCormack, Ryan Gaffney and Michael Lennon have been consistent performers, have succumbed to Derry, London and Kildare and unless they show much greater commitment and concentration tomorrow they could find themselves further marooned at the basement of the Division 3A table.