Antrim facing another tough assignment

By Michael McMullan

AFTER a promising start to the season, Antrim’s league campaign has turned into a relegation battle.

Back-to-back defeats at the hands of high-flying Down and Sligo leaves Andy McEntee’s side in the search for points to ensure their Division Three status.

They welcome another promotion chasing team, Westmeath, to Corrigan Park on Sunday.

After the final weekend off, the Saffrons will make the trip to Clare before hosting pointless Wicklow on the final day of the campaign.

Westmeath have won all four games with Limerick’s Cathal Downes the only man to find the back of their net so far.

Another thought in Antrim minds will be last season’s meeting of the counties in Mullingar, a 4-27 to 0-8 hammering.

It was John Heslin’s 1-5 that saw the Leinster side narrowly prevail in the 2022 encounter.

The entire full-back line of James McAuley, Ricky Johnston and Peter Healy are unavailable.

The spine of Martin Johnston, Michael McCann and Kevin Small are gone.

In attack, Tomás McCann and brothers Ryan and Conor Murray have since moved on.

Not many inter-county teams can survive this level of turnover in players.

McEntee has been forced to build a new side around goalkeeper Mick Byrne, Dermot McAleese and experienced Lámh Dhearg duo Marc Jordan and Declan Lynch.

Paddy McBride kicked six points – his first of the season – in Sligo last weekend.

They are missing the goal threat of Aghagallon’s Ruairi McCann, so alongside Dominic McEnhill, Antrim will need to find a combination that can stretch Westmeath.

Antrim’s spot in the division is still in their own hands. Sunday won’t define it.

The four points that kept them safe last year probably won’t be enough. The history books tell you that five is the magic number since it wasn’t enough for Westmeath in 2016.

With the teams below them, Offaly, Wicklow and Limerick, playing each other over the next three rounds, Antrim need a performance on Sunday to take them into the crucial finale.

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