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Antrim can use Dublin test to find out where they really are: Sean Paul McKillop



In that period, the Saffrons reached the All-Ireland Final in 1989 only to lose out to Tipperary after they had stunned the hurling world by overcoming fancied Offaly at the Semi-Final stage.

Fast forward to now and a depleted Antrim side will confront the Dubs at Corrigan Park conscious that victory could yet provide the spur for a robust League campaign.

Retirements, injuries and defections from the Saffrons squad have served to heap pressure on manager Darren Gleeson but McKillop, whose feet never left the ground as a player, prefers to keep a sense of perspective as he surveys the current landscape.

“I think we have to be realistic here. Antrim have an inordinate number of injuries just now, some players are unavailable for other reasons and others have left the panel,” points out McKillop.

“This being the case, you have to take a lot into account when assessing the team’s chances going forward. I believe this game against Dublin will give the team and their manager an indication of where they are really at.

“Dublin are a good side, they will travel with confidence I am sure but I hope that Antrim can rise to the challenge. They are at home, I hope they get good support and they still have players who can give a lead in terms of fashioning a possible victory.”

In this connection, Conal Cunning, Fred McCurry and Conor McCann are perceived as being capable of carrying a huge threat to the Dublin defence while Stephen Rooney and Niall O’Connor can also make a contribution to the scoreboard.

And with Paddy Burke, Scott Walsh and Ryan McGarry set to underpin the defence, it’s unlikely that the Dublin attack will be afforded the freedom of Corrigan Park.

“Obviously when you think about it, players like Neil McManus, Nigel Elliott, Seaan Elliott, Keelan Molloy, Eoin O’Neill, Paul Boyle and Eoghan Campbell are among others who will be unavailable and while this will impose its own pressures, I just hope that Antrim can rise the challenge,” observes McKillop.

Having lost heavily to reigning All-Ireland champions Limerick in their opening encounter (1-36 to 1-9), the Saffrons are particularly keen to make up lost ground.

Yet in this respect they do not find themselves confronted by a potentially devastating relegation threat as no team will make the drop in 2024.

Instead, the new League set-up for 2025 will mean that relegation from the top two divisions will be ruled out and instead the top three teams in Divisions One and Two plus the winners of the Play-Offs between the fourth-placed sides in the two divisions will form Division One.

“The fact that there will be no relegation is a bonus of sorts but for now Antrim’s task will be to bring in new blood given their list of absentees and allow them to gain experience for next year. There is definitely talent in the county and it would be encouraging if it were to be given an opportunity to take to the big stage,” states McKillop.

While there is still a solid backbone to the Antrim side, there is a necessity to bolster this with emerging talent if Antrim are to enhance their status.

“I know that the emphasis is on the League for now but I think that Antrim could be in a better place by the time the Championship comes round. That would certainly be helpful and it would certainly create great enthusiasm among supporters,” adds McKillop.

For the moment, though, the aim will be to try and curb a Dublin side that fell to Tipperary by 2-27 to 0-22.

“Obviously that defeat will have been a setback to Dublin and they will be particularly keen to make amends for this. It will be important for Antrim to get off to a good start and keep their heads in front if they can at all,” adds McKillop.

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