Tailteann Cup Group D: Wexford v Antrim
(Chadwick’s Wexford Park, Saturday, 5.30pm)

GIVEN the structure of the Tailteann Cup, Antrim already have one foot in the knockout stage thanks to their opening win over Leitrim, but will have designs on making a push for the top spot in Group D and securing a bye into the last eight.

They travel to Wexford on Saturday to take on a side that scored something of a shock when claiming a draw against Division two-bound Fermanagh at Brewster Park as goalkeeper Darragh Brookes nailed a long-range free with the last act of the game to snatch a 1-13 to 1-13 draw.

The Slaneysiders looked on course for an expected defeat in Enniskillen when trailing by six at the break, but a goal from a 50th-minute Ben Brosnan penalty brought them back into contention and they finished strong to get a point on the board.

That result ought to be a warning to Antrim that anything less than their best will see them in trouble, but should they manage to make it back-to-back wins, then it would not only represent a sign of progress, but leave them in a very healthy position to try and nail down that top spot.

The games are now coming thick and fast after a long layoff from the Ulster Championship game against Armagh, but such the busy schedule is one that Antrim manager Andy McEntee welcomes.

“It’s starting our season,” he said of the Tailteann Cup.

“Let’s be brutally honest: this a competition we’re playing teams that are about the same level of ourselves. So, it’s a competition we should be taking as seriously as we are.

“Guys don’t want to be training for all their lives - they want to be playing games.

“This game is one to look forward to and they (Wexford) had a great result against Fermanagh, so we need to be on it or else be on the receiving end of it.

“We want games in Championship, progress into the knockout stages and go as far as we can.”

The injuries have been piling up for Antrim with James McAuley the latest to hobble off in the win over Leitrim at the weekend.

Patrick McCormick came in for the Naomh Éanna man and acquitted himself well, so may retain his place in the Antrim defence should McAuley not be ready.

There were some big shifts put in against Leitrim with Adam Loughran grabbing the attention with his two second half goals, but Marc Jordan, Peter Healy, Dominic McEnhill, Ronan Boyle, the returning Dermott McAleese and Aghagallon’s Ruairi McCann all put in excellent shifts, while there was no shortage of effort elsewhere on the field.

Their efforts certainly didn’t reflect the comments of former Cork hurling goalkeeper, Donal Og Cusack, who refereed to the Taliteann Cup as “a sort of Gaelic football Grand National for disappointed also-rans” and McEntee absolutely doesn’t agree with those sentiments either.

Of course, all teams involved would dearly love to be equipped for making a charge at Sam Maguire, but that is not the reality and instead, the Tailteann Cup gives the opportunity to put together a winning run that can act as a momentum builder going forward.

For a team like Antrim that is very much in the development stage with McEntee in his first year at the helm, it also provides a number of games to help get ideas across and the squad fully gel.

It was clear to see that all teams were highly motivated over the weekend and the Antrim boss is delighted his team is still playing when in previous years, the season would cost likely be over.

“It was a bit of a cheap shot,” he said of Donal Og’s comments.

“As far as we’re concerned, this is the standard we’re at the moment. We’re trying to get to a higher standard so it’s important we keep playing.

“It’s hard to close that gap if you stop playing in May and the other teams you’re trying to catch up on keep playing until June or July.

“Despite what some ‘experts’ might like to say, we consider it a very important competition for our development.”

WEXFORD: Darragh Brooks; Brian Cushe, Páraic Hughes, Michael Furlong; Eoin Porter, Glen Malone, Cathal Walsh; Liam Coleman, Niall Hughes; Conor Carty, Eoghan Nolan, Kevin O'Grady; Robbie Brooks, Mark Rossiter, Ben Brosnan.

Subs: Anto Larkin, Dylan Furlong, Cian Hughes, Conor Kinsella, Darragh Lyons, Brian Molloy, Sean Nolan, Liam O'Connor, Alan Tobin, John Tubritt, Richard Waters

ANTRIM: Michael Byrne; Ronan Boyle, Peter Healy, Patrick McCormick; Patrick McBride, Joseph Finnegan, Dermot McAleese; Jack Dowling, Conor Stewart; Patrick Finnegan, Adam Loughran, Ruairí McCann; Marc Jordan, Ruairi McCann, Dominic McEnhill.

Subs: Luke Mulholland, Barry McCormick, Calum Higgins, Cathal Hynds, Conall McGirr, Conhuir Johnston, Cormac McGettigan, Declan Lynch, Odhran Eastwood, Oisin Doherty, Ryan McQuillan