Focused Saffrons ready to reach next level by seeing off mighty Cats

TWO years ago Antrim came within two points of defeating Limerick in the All-Ireland MHC semi-final. Last year Galway were fortunate to survive against them by four points in a quarter-final.

For the outsider, it may appear like progress but the Ulster outfit aren’t happy with valiant defeats.

It’s success they are after now.

Tomorrow they face Kilkenny in the first of the All-Ireland quarter-finals and there is an air of optimism sweeping the county that they can beat one of the big names in the game.

Antrim have named the same 15 which won the Ulster title. The team includes four of last year’s side, Cormac Donnelly, Tomas McCann, PJ O’Connell and Conor Carson, and PRO Terry Cormican says that they are travelling to Croke Park in confident mood.

He explained: “Hurling has been receiving massive attention in the county over the years but we need the victories to keep the interest going. Two years ago we were denied a win over Limerick by a rather dubious refereeing decision, while last year we had Galway on the rack but couldn’t finish them off.

“This year’s team may not be as good but they are a very honest bunch of players who have trained hard and deserve to get something out of this.”

He admitted: “Kilkenny are Kilkenny, and it’s not going to be easy for us. They have lost their provincial title and will be keen to get back on course for the All-Ireland. It’s a big ask of us but we are more than capable of causing what would be a massive shock.”

Positional changes from the side which defeated Down in the Ulster decider means Tony McCloskey moves from centre forward to right back, Stephen Shannon is now at left-half back with Conor Rocks going to midfield and Peter Dallat to centre forward.

Kilkenny lost their Leinster title to Dublin and are desperate to get back in the race for national honours, according to team official Joe Pike.

Said Pike: “We know we are better than we showed in the Leinster final and have only made the minimum of changes. Michael Fagan is currently under a one-match suspension after being sent off against the Dubs and Pat Murphy comes to partner TJ Rowe at midfield. Otherwise its the same team, and having work on a couple of things in the intervening weeks, I’m confident we can get our championship campaign back on track.”

The lack of top-class competition will always hinder Antrim’s progress. They’ll battle hard tomorrow to stay in the title race but Kilkenny, with excellent players in John Fitzpatrick, Mark Bergin, Michael Murphy and Shane Brennan, a nephew of the GAA

President Nickey, are favourites.

ANTRIM: D. McNally; T. McCloskey, C. Donnelly, T. McAllister; B. Cousins, T. McCann, S. Shannon; PJ O’Connell, C. Rocks; M. McCarthy, P. Dallat, C. Carson; L. McKillop, A. McCaffery, D. Hamill.

KILKENNY: C. McGrath; C. Fogarty, K. Mooney, E. Malone; J. Fitzpatrick, D. Langton, M. Bergin; TJ Rowe, P. Murphy; M. Moloney, M. Murphy, D. Walton; C. Fennelly, A. Stapleton, S. Brennan.

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