By Kieran Lynch
ANTRIM are back at the top table of hurling, having won the Joe McDonagh Cup last year, and Conor McCann says that the Saffrons have an extra spring in their step ahead of what will be an historic occasion when they take on Dublin this weekend.
“Once you get into championship week, everyone is buzzing to get out on the pitch and really eager to show what they can do,” he said.
“It’s starting to feel like the beginning of summer now, and every player was out in training trying to make an impression. The week leading into championship is always good, as anyone who has been involved with a team will know.”
The game takes on huge significance as it will be played in Corrigan Park – which is a first for Antrim hurling.
“It’s the first ever Leinster Senior Hurling Championship game to be played in Antrim,” said McCann.
“Plus, it’s the first time that we will be playing in the round-robin group format, so we’re really looking forward to it. It’ll be something we have never experienced before, so it will be good not only to be back playing in the Leinster Championship, but to be doing it in Antrim.”
Antrim battled Dublin in their Division One league campaign in February, and lost out 2-19 to 0-28, after they let the Dubs pull away by 10 points early in the second half.
McCann, who won the Joe McDonagh Player of the Year award in 2020, believes that Dublin have ‘had Antrim’s number’ over the last few years, but with home advantage, his team can find a way to win.
“Playing against Dublin in Belfast will be a huge occasion for us,” he said.
“In the last few years we have been very strong in Corrigan, and the two home games that we have are so important to us, and if we can get a good crowd behind us, anything can happen.
“Dublin have really had our number in the last few years; they have continually been able to find a way of getting over the line against us, even though there is not that much in it, between the two teams.
“This weekend, we’re going to try and make it a competitive game first of all, but it’s going to be a huge task, because Dublin are a good team.”
Out of five round-robin games, Antrim only play two of them at home, so the pressure to make a fast start is on, with away trips against Wexford, Galway and Westmeath to come, as well as a daunting clash against Kilkenny in between.
“It’s crucial to make a fast start,” said McCann.
“Even when we were in the Joe McDonagh, we learned that. The round-robin allows for you to build up a bit of momentum and go on a run, but if you lose a game, it can quickly turn to two, so you try to get as many points as you can, as quickly as possible.”