Leinster Senior Hurling Championship
Dublin v Antrim (Parnell Park, Saturday, 4pm)

THE mood may be much different heading to Parnell Park on Saturday than it was ahead of the Wexford game a fortnight ago, but the same approach is required for Antrim’s key clash against Dublin in the Leinster Championship.

Going into their second championship fixture against the Slaneysiders off the back of a long afternoon in Kilkenny, the challenge was to forget about what had gone before and attack the Wexford game on its own merits. That yielded a famous win, but for all the pats on the back and the spring in the step it provided, it was still just two points on the board.

Therefore, this week it needs to be the same mindset as the last day is now gone and for Antrim to realise their ambition of playing knockout hurling in this year’s championship, rising to the challenge against Dublin is imperative for this is a crossroads game for both teams.

Dublin sit above Antrim in the standings thanks to their comeback draw against Wexford in week one, followed by a victory in Carlow a fortnight ago.

Micheál Donoghue’s charges still have the major challenges of Kilkenny and Galway ahead of them, so they will be well aware that a slip-up at home to the Saffrons could well leave them in a very difficult position in order secure a top-half finish and at least an All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final.

The sides will need little by the way of intense scouting of the other considering the frequency they have met over the past number of years, with Antrim yet to put one over on the Dubs.

However, the gap appears to have narrowed in recent meetings with the teams finishing level in the Championship in Corrigan Park last year and back in February, it took a fortuitous injury-time goal to see Dublin snatch a league victory at the same venue.

Therefore, Antrim will not lack any motivation ahead of a trip to a venue that has been far from a happy hunting ground over the years.

“The big thing with us is: you can overanalyse teams and all of that, but we focus on ourselves so we can get the best out of ourselves and we’ll do that for the next couple of weeks,” said Antrim manager Darren Gleeson after the Wexford victory.

“There should be huge motivation. We’ve come out of Parnell Park too often (disappointed). We play Dublin a lot between Walsh Cup, the league the way the top tier has been set up since we got there and then the Leinster Championship, obviously. We need to go down there and get a performance for ourselves and a performance for the people who follow us around the place.”

Dublin had an element of good fortune in that win over Carlow as a Fergal Whiteley shot dipped into the net and turned the tide in a game in which the Barrowsiders had led at the break.

Again, it was the sharpshooting of Donal Burke who scored nine points despite playing with a broken nose, while Conor Burke, Danny Sutcliffe, Eoghan O’Donnell and Daire Gray all contributed to their win.

Ronan Hayes has proven a handful for Antrim over the years and his introduction in the second half last year helped his side come back into the game to grab a draw, so Antrim have been forewarned against a team they will know plenty about and who have proven the ability to finish strong, highlighted by the two goals in stoppage time at Wexford Park that helped them claim a draw.

But Antrim also displayed their fighting qualities and ability to keep going until the last against Wexford.

Seven down early in the second period, it was a huge challenge to get back into it, but that they did as their persistence paid off.

Of course, the manner of their defeat in Kilkenny would have left many questioning what the remainder of the campaign was going to look like, but the players bounced back superbly.

Despite it being their first taste of inter-county action this year, Gerard Walsh and Keelan Molloy both made huge impacts, whilst other championship returnees in Seaan Elliott and James McNaughton became more influential as the game progressed.

There is further good news in that Paul Boyle, who has been absent throughout the year, made an impressive return to the fray for Loughgiel in their win over Dunloy last week with five points from play and those minutes make him an option with a place on the bench this week.

But whatever about the personnel, it is all about the performance with the hunger and intensity brought the Wexford game, and indeed the hoe game against Dublin last year, absolutely crucial as anything less and Antrim’s miserable record in Parnell Park will continue.

The Saffrons broke new ground against Wexford, so backing that win up would highlight they have really made progress and would leave them on a great position to advance from the provincial series. That was the challenge laid down by Gleeson a fortnight ago, so their ambition is clear this week.

“It’s completely irrelevant unless we go and add to it for the rest of the championship,” he insisted.

“We’ve three more opportunities, so we need to make those count.”