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Antrim determined to maintain their winning momentum: Rooney

Stephen Rooney insists Antrim will not be taking the foot off the gas against Offaly on Sunday despite their place in the Division 2A final virtually secure Stephen Rooney insists Antrim will not be taking the foot off the gas against Offaly on Sunday despite their place in the Division 2A final virtually secure
By David Mohan

Gaelic Games: Allianz Hurling League Division 2A
Offaly v Antrim (Tullamore, Sunday, 2pm)

THE permutation for Antrim’s hurlers against Offaly this weekend is quite straightforward: avoid a drubbing by 36 points or more and they are in the Division 2A final.

Such a scenario, or indeed a defeat by even remotely near that tally, is unthinkable as Darren Gleeson’s charges have enjoyed an excellent campaign to date with their impressive victory in Kerry on Sunday the latest evidence they may be ready to take the next step.

While their place in the final is all but secured barring the freakiest of freak results, that’s not to say they will be travelling to Tullamore with their foot off the gas for this re-fixture following Storm Ciara forcing its postponement last month.

The game is hugely important to their promotion rivals as an Offaly win will see them joining Antrim in the final, while anything else means that Kerry will be the opposition when they play-off to decide who goes to Division One in 2021.

“We want to keep building and not be taking a step back,” insists defender Stephen Rooney.

“We lost to them (Offaly) in the Kehoe Cup final so we want to rectify that and put our own heads right.

“I don’t know what the team will be, but the 15 who do start will be very strong and whoever plays will be busting their balls to secure a starting place for the final.

“We don’t want to roll over for anyone; we’d rather put our foot down against whoever it is. If Offaly beat us fair and square it’s them in the final or if not then it will be Kerry, but there will be no let-up this week.”

It is a perfect scenario for the Saffrons as this game is not a dead rubber, but may afford the opportunity to give game-time to players who have not featured much.

Conal Cunning and Conor Johnston for minutes against Kerry last week as they make their return from injury and their inclusion certainly wouldn’t weaken any team.

That strength-in-depth has been a key feature for Antrim this term under Gleeson and Rooney, now in his fourth season in county colours, agrees it’s the strongest panel he’s been involved in.

“Something we’ve lacked over the last number of years is not having the strongest players available, but this year every single person has put their hand up and bought into it,” said the St Paul’s man.

“It shows in training; on any given day any person can start and that breeds competition for places. The amount of players fighting for those places creates a healthy environment.

“We have 33 players on the panel and only 26 can be named on the match day squad, but those who miss out are all quality hurlers and dedicated to try and prove they’re in it for the long-run.”

Much of that eagerness to prove their worth is down to the man in charge.

Gleeson – an All-Ireland winner as a player with Tipperary in 2014 and a coach last year – was part of Neal Peden’s backroom team last year, but has taken full control this year.

The Portroe man’s presence has fuelled an air of self-belief throughout the panel given his know-how and experience of winning at the highest level.

“Last year he was our coach and brought in a level of – I hate saying this – professionalism we maybe hadn’t had before,” added Rooney who works as a software engineer.

“His experience of playing for Tipperary and winning an All-Ireland, he’s made small changes and they’ve been making all the difference.

“Bringing in Brendan Murphy as strength and conditioner has been phenomenal. If lads need extra sessions or can’t make it, he’s driving all over Antrim to meet them.

“These lads have come in and can see the potential Antrim have, so it’s just good to unleash it.”

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