NHL Preview: Antrim on a high ahead of big one at Nolan Park

National Hurling League Division 1B

Antrim v Kilkenny

Sunday, Nolan Park, 1.30pm

ANTRIM’S return to Division One brought surprise and delight to the county last weekend as they earned a 1-21 to 0-22 victory over Clare.

The result is important for a number of reasons. Firstly it proved that the Saffrons are capable of competing at this level, as they beat a Clare team who had a strong league performance last year, ending up topping Division 1B.

Secondly, the manner of their performance was so good. They were competitive, they stuck with Clare throughout, and even fought back from being five points behind in the first half.

They were also able to get a good spread of scorers. While Ciaran Clarke and Neil McManus hit the crucial winning scores, Keelan Molloy, Conal Cunning, Conor McCann and Eoghan Campbell all found the target.

The storyline after the game was that the game should not have been perceived as a shock. Limerick’s Niall Moran told RTÉ Sport that it was patronising to describe the win as such. He explained that the momentum that Antrim had after winning the Joe McDonagh Cup helped them. They also had the surroundings of Corrigan Park, which Clare would have been unfamiliar with.

The third reason why it is important is that it will give the team belief that they are good enough to stay in this division, and getting a win over what will be one of the toughest teams they are likely to play will be important.

It could also give them a boost as they prepare to play another equally difficult, if not tougher, side in Kilkenny.

The Cats beat Dublin last weekend but the game was close in the early stages. The Dubs could have been on closer terms but shipped late points in injury time of the first half to trail 0-11 to 0-9.

The players that Antrim will have taken note of are the usual suspects of TJ Reid, who played well but wasn’t perfect from placed balls.

Martin Keoghan was important in the second half as his scores kept Kilkenny ahead, and then there was that all-important goal that came when he seized upon a mistake by the Dublin defence. When Dublin’s Liam Rushe was sent off it made things more difficult and Kilkenny pulled away at the end.

The lessons that Antrim will learn is that they must be careful with their tackling as Reid will punish them. Similarly they will also realise that any defensive mistake will be pounced on. They only gave up seven scored frees against Clare, so they should be able to stay disciplined in this game.

Perhaps another downside for Antrim is that they are travelling down to Kilkenny to play this game. Yet after that win last weekend, perhaps the venue won’t seem to matter at all.

Verdict: Kilkenny

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