By Kieran Lynch
ANTRIM are heavy underdogs this weekend, but their two results so far in the Leinster Championship will give them heart that they can put it up to last year’s All-Ireland runners-up Kilkenny.
Indeed, the Ulster side were far from disgraced when the two sides battled in the league back in February, in what was new Cats’ manager Derek Lyng’s first game in charge, having taken over from legendary manager Brian Cody at the beginning of the season.
Played in Corrigan Park Belfast, as Sunday’s encounter will be, Antrim never let Kilkenny get too far away from them, trailing by just four at half time. They were just two points down with five minutes to go, but a late flurry of points put some gloss on the score-line for the visitors.
However, that was early February, and this is now.
But Antrim shouldn’t fear the challenge of the men in black and amber, after two encouraging results in the Leinster Championship to date.
In round one, they would have been frustrated to only come away with a point, after they ran Dublin close in the first ever Leinster SHC match to be held in Belfast.
In a thrilling contest, which finished 1-19 apiece, Antrim showed that they have come on leaps and bounds from the team who lost to the Dubs by 18 points just two years prior, but an equalising point from the away side in the 76th minute left them somewhat disappointed that they couldn’t see out the upset victory.
On that day, an early Conor Johnston goal had the supporters believing, and Conal Cunning top scored with 0-9, as Antrim showed that they are no longer happy to be pushovers at the top table.
They couldn’t pull off a shock win over Wexford last time out, but they more than held their own against the Yellow Bellies away from home.
They found themselves trailing by nine points at the break, meaning that despite an outstanding second half where they outscored Wexford 0-16 to 0-11, and Cunning and McManus both had goal chances saved, they left Chadwicks Wexford Park with a 1-30 to 1-26 defeat.
However, they can take confidence from their second-half display, knowing that if they can sustain those efforts for 70 minutes against Kilkenny, they will be able to put it up to the reigning Leinster champions.
Kilkenny were ruthless in their first championship game without Cody at the helm for 24 years, when they dispatched Westmeath 0-29 to 0-7 in round one, with 11 different scorers finding the mark.
Last weekend, they battled Galway in a repeat of last year’s provincial final, but like Antrim against Dublin, they had to settle for a draw after the opposition scored an equalising point at the death.
In truth, Antrim will be right up against it, but they will have no reason to believe that they can’t cause Kilkenny problems, if they’re at the top of their game.