Antrim hoping home advantage counts

By Shaun Casey

WELCOMING big teams to Corrigan Park is one of the exciting features of Antrim plying their trade in Division One, but for Darren Gleeson and his men, getting points on the board is the most important thing.

The Saffrons have already welcomed Dublin to the Belfast based venue while this weekend they host Galway, but as they enter the third round of the league, Antrim are still searching for their first points of 2024.

Antrim retained their top tier status last season by the skin of their teeth, with a round four victory over Laois enough to save their bacon and relegate the O’Moore County.

But life in Division One can be fairly unforgiving and no one knows that more than Gleeson’s side, who were extremely unfortunate to lose to Dublin two weeks ago, with the minimum of margins separating the sides in the end.

New goalkeeper Tiernan Smyth will still have nightmares about the game. With Antrim leading late in the game and looking like securing a first win, Smyth fumbled the ball over his own goal line to put the Dubs ahead.

No one inside that Antrim changing room will point the finger at their new netminder, who plays outfield for his club Ballycastle, but he will embrace the chance of redeeming himself for that mistake this weekend.

Their performance was much improved from the first-round hammering dished out by five-in-a-row chasing All-Ireland champions Limerick, but Galway will be another step up in class from Dublin.

And this is an Antrim team that are still without a large chunk of their key players, who for one reason or another, aren’t part of the panel this season. Neil McManus called time on his career last year and left a hole in the team that will take a long time to fill.

Then there’s the Dunloy contingent that have taken a year out from the inter-county game, namely Ryan Elliot, Seann Elliot, Keelan Molloy and Eoin O’Neill. All five of those players played in Antrim’s most recent championship game against Westmeath last May.

There’s a lot of essential work being done in the Saffron County to ensure they keep their spot in the topflight, but to do that, they need to start picking up points and quickly with three games remaining, two after this weekend.

Galway hammered Westmeath in their first league clash before losing to Tipperary in round two by five points so Henry Shefflin and his team will be keen to leave Belfast with the maximum points on offer.

The last time these sides crossed swords, Galway ran out convincing winners and secured a comfortable 5-29 to 1-22 victory in round four of the 2023 All-Ireland series on their way to topping the group with an unbeaten record of three wins and two draws. Antrim will hope they can improve on that result and close the gap, but they will be up against it. Home advantage will certainly give them a boost and they’ll not be found wanting in terms of spirit and desire.

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