By Shaun Casey
FOLLOWING their convincing nine-point win over Leitrim in the opening round of the Tailteann Cup, Antrim will be aiming to make it two from two when they travel to Wexford Park on Saturday evening.
Three second half goals saw Andy McEntee’s side power to a convincing 3-18 to 2-12 victory, on home soil, with Adam Loughran nailing two of the majors, and Ruairi McCann also rattling the net.
Two points was the difference when the teams switched sides, with Antrim ahead, but the Saffron’s took complete control of the encounter in the second period and confidence in the camp will be sky high this week.
Momentum is a huge thing in sport and particularly in group stage competitions such as the Tailteann Cup and a good run of form is one advantage that Antrim hold over their opponents ahead of the game.
Wexford earned a draw against Fermanagh in last week’s first round, holding their nerve late on to steal a share of the spoils. Wexford needed an injury time kick from goalkeeper Darragh Brooks, who nailed a 45 with the last piece of action in the game to see the sides finish 1-13 apiece.
Wexford could have done with a win as their form hasn’t been great this season, claiming just three victories in their Division Four campaign before crashing out of the Leinster championship at the very first hurdle at the hands of Laois.
Of their last five outings across league and championship, the Yellowbellies’ have won just once, beating Carlow on the final day of the league when promotion was already out of their grasp.
Fair enough, Antrim haven’t been pulling up any trees in 2023, but they competed at a higher level in the league (Division Three) and not only that, but they beat the eventual champions in Cavan.
That was enough to fend off relegation fears and their Ulster Championship was already a write off before a ball was kicked, coming up against Division One opposition in Armagh. That was six weeks ago, so McEntee’s side have had plenty of time to prepare for the Tailteann Cup.
Already, Antrim have more wins under their belt in the second-tier competition than they did last season, after just one outing. In 2022, Andy Moran’s Leitrim were their undoing in the first round and the knockout structure saw their summer end that day.
The 2023 version of the Tailteann Cup is a round robin format and with an opening day win, Antrim are more or less guaranteed their place in the knockout stages, if not the last eight, then at least the preliminary quarter final.
That won’t be the focus this week of course, but it is a safety net as Antrim take on Wexford before an all-Ulster clash with Fermanagh in the final round. A win this weekend would set them up perfectly for a winner takes all clash with the Erne men, but they’ll have to get the job done in Wexford Park first and foremost.