Leinster Senior Hurling Championship
Galway v Antrim (Pearse Stadium, Salthill, Sunday, 2pm)
IT’S out of the frying pan and into the fire for Antrim’s hurlers this Sunday as they make the trip west to face high-flying Galway in Salthill.

The Saffrons underperformed against Kilkenny a fortnight back and were made to pay for it in merciless fashion as the Cats romped to victory at Corrigan Park with the game decided by the break.

Of course, Antrim were rank outsiders, but the intensity they arrived with against Dublin in week one was lacking, while the following week in Wexford, an under-par first half left them with a mountain to climb they weren’t far off scaling.

On reflection, that was a huge opportunity missed and one that had they managed to take, would have left them in a much less stressful position in terms of staying in the Leinster Championship for next year.

While they were still in the hunt against Wexford at the break, an equally slow start against a team like Kilkenny was always going to be fatal as the Noresiders are operating at a different level.

Galway, who won a meeting between the counties in the Walsh Cup in January, will be the same this weekend and the bad news is that they will have to travel with a badly depleted squad due to injuries.

Neil McManus hobbled off against Kilkenny with what had turned out to be a hamstring tear and will be out of action for a lengthy spell, while Conall Bohill is another to have picked up an injury over the past week.

Nigel Elliott, Seaan Elliott, Phelim Duffin and Eoghan Campbell all picked up injuries earlier in the campaign that will keep them out over the next few weeks as well as reserve goalkeeper Paul McMullan who recently had ankle surgery.

Ciaran Clarke and Conor McCann remain out and although Daniel McKernan is off the injury list, this week is likely to come just a little too soon with the Westmeath game more likely for the Sarsfield’s man to get fully up to speed.

In comes Tiernan Smyth for his Championship debut in goals, while Conor Boyd is selected at centre-back.

Domhnall Nugent and Eoin O'Neill have been named in the forwards with Niall McKenna back having missed out against Kilkenny.

“I’ve every faith in the players we have from seeing the work they’ve done, so they are the players who are going to have to do the business over the next two weeks,” said manager, Darren Gleeson.

“Eoghan is a big loss from the 6 position; Conall did well for us in the games he’s played. But look, we’ve lots of cover there and lots of boys who are itching to prove to us they are capable of playing there, so I’d expect them to be well able for it.”

To date, the Tribesmen have looked every part the contender for Leinster and All-Ireland honours they are expected to be as they impressed in their opening win over Wexford, battled back to rescue a draw against fellow contenders Kilkenny and last time out, ran out 6-33 to 0-17 winners at Westmeath.

Evan Niland had been in fine scoring form throughout the competition with his ability to convert from frees and play the foundation for his team, but there are threats all over the field with Conor Cooney netting a hat-trick the last day, while Brian Concannon, Declan McLaughlin and Kevin Cooney all chipped in with majors.

Elsewhere there are a host of household names in the Galway team that will be eager to give the visitors no encouragement as they maintain their push for a top-two finish in the round robin that will secure a Leinster final berth for Henry Shefflin’s side.

“Henry has a substantial panel there of minor and U20-winning plays coming through who are hungry for places,” Gleeson agreed.

“Add in the spine of the All-Ireland-winning team from 2017, it’s a fairly outfit: Gearóid McInerney, the two Mannions (Pádraic and Cathal), Dáithí Burke, Conor Whelan, the two Cooneys (Jospeh and Conor) - it’s a fair team.

“We know what we’re facing into but it’s something our younger players should relish as we are going to need them to stand up on Sunday. It will be a great test for them and a great way for some of them to start their inter-county career.”

There is, of course, the temptation to look to next week’s final game away to Westmeath as the main objective as it could well be the case that it is a de facto shootout for survival.

As it stands, Antrim have one point on the board with Westmeath still to register, but the Lake County travel to Wexford on Sunday afternoon and although they have endured some tough outings to date, will not be overly daunted, especially when it’s taken into account they claimed a draw against the Slaneysiders last year.

Should Joe Fortune’s side cause a shock in the south east, it will drag Wexford right into the relegation picture but the final day permutations are being put to one side for the Saffrons this week as despite fortune abandoning them on the injury front, the objective this week is to deliver a performance and see where that leaves them by Sunday evening.

“No matter what, your personal pride and pride in the jersey you’re wearing always comes out,” Gleeson stressed.

“There is no way we’re going to Galway for the weekend to lie down. We’re going to perform and represent the group, represent the county. That’s a must whether we’re in a pre-season match in the McGurk Cup or it’s the Leinster Championship.

“You’re representing your county and every time you get the chance to do that, it’s important.”

ANTRIM: Tiernan Smyth; Paddy Burke, Ryan McGarry, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Conor Boyd, Niall O Connor; Keelan Molloy, James McNaughton; Eoin O'Neill, Conal Cunning, Domhnall Nugent; Rian McMullan, Niall McKenna, Conor Johnston.

Subs: Ryan Elliott, Scott Walsh, Caolan McKernan, Enda Og McGarry, Paul Boyle, Seamie McAuley, Joe Maskey, Daniel McKernan, Michael Bradley, Eoin Trainor, Arron Bradley.