First meeting of Galway and Antrim in Leinster championship

When GAA delegates voted at a Special Congress in October 2008 to allow Galway and Antrim to compete in the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship, they surely never envisaged it would take 15 years before the two counties would play a match against each other in the competition.

Yet, on Sunday afternoon the two counties prepare to lock horns for the first time in Pearse Stadium. Joe McDonagh Cup champions in 2022, Darren Gleeson’s Antrim side is hoping to avoid a swift return to the second tier and has already picked up what could be a crucial point at home to Dublin in the opening round.

Only for a Cian O’Sullivan last-gasp leveller, Antrim would have defeated Micheál Donoghue’s side in Corrigan Park and they were again competitive down in Wexford in round two, eventually losing out by 1-30 to 1-26.

Kilkenny were far more ruthless when they travelled north of the border in round three, building up a massive lead by half-time, although Antrim did yet again amass a decent score in a 5-31 to 3-20 loss.

In all three games Conal Cunning has been Antrim’s top scorer, accumulating 0-30 including 25 placed balls. Conor Johnston has bagged two of their goals, while Keelan Molloy, Sean Elliott and James McNaughton have also been prominent.

Barring any shock results this weekend, Antrim are well aware that their fate will be more than likely be sealed in the final round when they travel to Mullingar to take on Westmeath. Gleeson will be looking for a decent performance heading into that encounter, but whether they throw the kitchen sink at Galway or hold something in reserve remains to be seen.

When the sides met back in late January in the Walsh Cup, Galway emerged victorious by 1-31 to 2-15, and Henry Shefflin’s men have been performing solidly, if not spectacularly, in the round robin phase to date.

Evan Niland has the same scoring tally as Cunning to date on 0-30, with only 19 of those coming from dead ball situations. Brian Concannon’s 2-10 is next best on the scoring list, while Conor Whelan’s hat trick against Westmeath brought his total to 3-5.

Galway fans are well aware of the threat these forwards pose to any defence in the country, but it is the emergence of players like Declan McLoughlin and Liam Collins that could provide the Tribesmen with real impact off the bench in the latter stages of the competition.

Daithí Burke and Gearóid McInerney anchor a defense that has only conceded two goals thus far, with Éanna Murphy’s puckout accuracy a valuable launchpad. Galway will be expected to put up a big score and win at leisure on Sunday, and they should do just that, if they match Kilkenny’s performances to date.

Derek Lyng’s side next outing is a home fixture against Dublin on Saturday evening, while Wexford take on Westmeath on Sunday afternoon.


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