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Saffron skipper McCann braced for Offaly backlash

Antrim captain Conor McCann, pictured following a collision with Laois defender Joe Phelan in their Joe McDonagh Cup round two clash, expects another tough battle when the Saffrons take on Offaly in O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Saturday afternoon Antrim captain Conor McCann, pictured following a collision with Laois defender Joe Phelan in their Joe McDonagh Cup round two clash, expects another tough battle when the Saffrons take on Offaly in O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Saturday afternoon
By Paddy Tierney

Joe McDonagh Cup Round Three
Offaly v Antrim (Saturday, 3pm, O’Connor Park, Tullamore)

HAVING lost their opening two Joe McDonagh Cup games, Offaly will be itching to get off the mark at the third time of asking when they host Antrim at O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Saturday.

When the Faithful County lost their Liam MacCarthy Cup status last summer, some suggested rejigging the competition, arguing that Offaly were too big a county to drop to the second tier.

After two games, Offaly prop up the Joe McDonagh Cup standings and, suddenly, relegation to the Christy Ring Cup is a real danger for the besieged midlanders.

Last week, under fire boss Kevin Martin stepped down with Joachim Kelly taking over on an interim basis. However, Antrim captain Conor McCann says his side must be prepared for Offaly to show their teeth on Saturday afternoon.

“It is a massive game for us. It is almost like knockout now,” said McCann.

“If you lose, that’s your Joe McDonagh aspirations over for the season and you leave yourself in danger of relegation.

“Offaly will be coming out gunning for us and they’ll be looking for their first win.

“Being at home, we are expecting a tough game from them. We expect Offaly to come out flying this weekend, especially after all the criticism they’ve been getting.”

Antrim will also be hoping to bounce back from a below-par showing in round two when they lost out to an Enda Rowland-inspired Laois on a scoreline of 2-24 to 1-19.

Neal Peden’s men had opened their Joe McDonagh Cup account with a fine 3-19 to 0-14 win over Kerry in Dunloy, but McCann bemoaned their failure to replicate that showing in Portlaoise.

“We were disappointed with our display against Laois,” said McCann.

“In the first game against Kerry, we felt we got our game up to a decent level of intensity and we played well. Everything we’d worked on came off for us.

“We tried to replicate that against Laois, but it just didn’t work out. We felt we worked hard enough, but we missed a few chances and the game got away from us. They are good opposition and we couldn’t claw our way back.”

This Saturday’s game will be streamed live online on the ‘GAANOW’ service as part of an effort to promote the Joe McDonagh Cup.

A lack of coverage from the mainstream media outlets has led to fears that a proposed second tier in the football Championship might also suffer when it comes to television coverage.

McCann stressed that more must be done to promote the McDonagh Cup and says that it could be key to getting support for a ‘B’ Championship in football.

“The players are used to it at this stage. If there is a television camera at a game, it is nearly more of a shock to players,” said McCann.

“I think that’s something, if they are going to get the football teams to buy into it, they have to look into it.

“The Joe McDonagh Cup is really competitive and the Munster and Leinster groups work really well, but until we sort out that coverage, they will struggle to get people to buy into it.

“It is getting better and I know they are trying to build the coverage and the GPA do a lot of work. It is getting there slowly but surely.

“This weekend’s game is being streamed so that’s a first step. Maybe they can look at the television rights in the future and get games shown live.”

While a ‘B’ Championship was debated last weekend, the current impasse surrounding Casement Park also sparked a lot of comment with the Antrim footballers having to play their ‘home’ Ulster SFC clash with Tyrone in Armagh’s Athletic Grounds.

Of course, the Antrim senior hurlers are also nomads with their home games being played in Corrigan Park, Cushendall and Dunloy in recent times and McCann has added his voice to calls for the iconic stadium to be redeveloped without further delay.

“It is just as big an issue, possibly more so for the hurlers in terms of our Championship format,” added the Creggan clubman.

“We have two home games in the Joe McDonagh Cup. When you don’t have that single place, that fortress or whatever you want to call it, it affects the time. We need it built big time.

“I am not sure why they keep changing the ‘home’ venue for the hurlers – maybe it is just to spread the games around the clubs. Ballycastle was our base for a good while and it was somewhere we played well at, but we haven’t been up there in two or three years now.

“You do miss Casement. Everyone wanted to play at Casement and the crowds from North Antrim didn’t mind travelling down.

“That was our base and it was tough for teams to play us there. We got to train a lot and the pitch was one of the best in the country.”

Antrim’s final game comes next Saturday when they host Westmeath in Dunloy. That is likely to be a ‘must-win’ clash for Peden’s side.

Depending on the outcome of this weekend’s tie in Tullamore, it will be either to reach the Joe McDonagh Cup final or avoid relegation to the Christy Ring Cup.

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