Tailteann Cup, Group Two
Antrim v Tipperary (Corrigan Park, Sunday, 2.30pm)
A FLYING start to the 2023 Tailteann Cup proved the catalyst for a run to a semi-final in Croke Park, so getting off on the right foot is again the objective when they welcome Tipperary to Corrigan Park on Sunday.

Andy McEntee’s Saffrons are once again a second seed, so have earned home advantage for their opening Group Two fixture and will naturally want to make the best of it with a trip to Wexford to follow next weekend before meeting the top-ranked side in the group, Sligo, on neutral ground.

If the seedings are to be believed, then Antrim ought to be a strong favourite this week as they host the bottom-ranked team in the group that has had an extremely difficult 2024, finishing in the bottom half of Division Four before being stunned by Waterford in the Munster Championship.

Just four years ago, the Premier County created a stir when they defeated Cork to win the Munster Championship, albeit in the 2020 season that was greatly disrupted by Covid-19, and they had seven players involved in their shock defeat to the Deise who played a part back then.

“Last year it really benefitted us and this year we’re going in with the same (approach), but every team in the competition will be going in thinking could win it,” said Antrim forward Dominic McEnhill.

“During the league we were missing a lot through injuries, but we’re starting to get them back and even the training over the past few weeks has been a very high standard with more numbers.

“We wouldn’t consider it an easy or a hard draw, but just take each match at a time and hopefully go one better than last year.”

Antrim’s Division Three campaign would ultimately end on a high as they avoided the drop against Wicklow, but four defeats on the spin after two opening victories left them on the brink.

There were mitigating circumstances with a huge injury list that included key players and they were stung again when it came to their Ulster Championship defeat to Down last month as Aghagallon’s Ruairi McCann missed out.

They have been hopeful that some may be back for the Tailteann campaign including Peter Healy and Adam Loughran with several of the wounded returning to training including McCann, Loughran, Conor Stewart and Ryan Murray, but whether they are fit to start this week is to be determined.

Either way, Antrim ought to be confident that whoever takes to the field should have enough to claim a win should they perform.

The last meeting between the sides occurred in Thurles during last year’s Allianz League when Antrim emerged convincing winners by eight points.

With home advantage and a Tipperary side on a difficult run, the Saffrons really should produce a replica this week.

“We played Tipperary down there last year, so we know they are a big, physical side,” McEnhill reflected.

“They play a really good running game and are hard to break down, but we’ll just look at that game first and hopefully by the end of the group, we will be sitting where we want to be: a home tie in the quarter-final.”