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Antrim hurling championships click into gear this weekend

St John’s also travelled to Loughgiel in the group stages last year for a game won by the hosts St John’s also travelled to Loughgiel in the group stages last year for a game won by the hosts
By David Mohan

THE Antrim Senior Hurling Championship fully clicks into gear this weekend as the first round of group games take place.

The action all gets underway on Saturday evening (7pm) when Loughgiel host St John’s in a game the Johnnies will be hoping to use as a marker going forward in the competition.

While it is not a case of ‘win or bust’ for either team this weekend as they will both also face St Gall’s in their next game, they will nonetheless want to get off to a good start and Johnnies defender Stephen Tierney says they will travel north intending to give it their all despite not being at full strength.

“We have been struggling with injuries for most of the year and I think this game may be a bit too early for a few of the boys coming back,” he said.

“They have beaten us handsomely in the league so it’s going to be a tough task for us going to Loughgiel, but it’s one where we will be going up and giving it our best shot as well.”

While the likes of James McNaughton and Donal McKinley have grown into top-class hurlers for Loughgiel to supplement the experience of the team’s veterans like Eddie McCloskey, Barney McAuley and Odhran McFadden.

Likewise, the Johnnies have some fresh talent emerging to bolster a squad that is still relatively young anyway and is starting to mature.

It will still be a tough task for them on Saturday, but one they won’t fear and with the meeting against St Gall’s still to come, their season will not be over whatever happens.

“This year we’ve had another influx of younger players like Conal Bohill, Oisin Donnelly and Danan McKeogh who are only coming out of minor,” Tierney reports.

“The nucleus of our team is only really starting to mature now so hopefully people will see the benefits of that.

“We will be up against it, but there’s no doubt we will be going up there to get a result. Win or lose, we will probably have to beat St Gall’s anyway and that’s a home tie so it’s one we would have been looking forward to.”

Group A
The opening game in Group A takes place on Sunday evening when the past two winners clash with Dunloy hosting Cushendall (6pm).

Cuchullians won the league at a canter and look like they will be tough to stop this year, but defending champions Cushendall will be determined to plant a seed of doubt, just like they did in the corresponding fixture last year when Dunloy just about emerged with a win.

The remaining team in Group A will be confirmed on Sunday afternoon when Rossa travel to Ballycastle for the second leg of their preliminary round tie.

The Shaw’s Road club built-up a 14-point advantage from their home leg when they completely out-played ‘The Town’ to score a 1-22 to 0-11 win.

While they hold that healthy lead from the first leg, nothing is being taken for granted within the Rossa ranks as they know that if they give Ballycastle any hope, they could be made to pay.

“It’s half-time for us so we will be going there with level heads,” said Rossa selector, Sean Shannon.

“We know that Ballycastle will be hurting after the first game and they will be thinking that they can get at us at home so we can’t be going there under any illusions.

“It’s another Championship game to win and it’s a very dangerous lead to be carrying in because if they get their tails up, they’ll fancy themselves to turn it around.”

Intermediate Hurling Championship
Meanwhile, the Andersonstown Social Club Intermediate Hurling Championship also gets underway this weekend with a double-header in Glenravel on Saturday.

Getting things underway at 1.30pm are Sarsfield’s who will take on Cushendun.

Niall McKenna, Kevin McKernan and Daniel McKernan will lead the way, but they have an abundance of talent and will be heavily fancied to overcome a Cushendun side that finished mid-table in Division Three.

This game is followed at 3pm by Division Two winners, St Enda’s who take on Clooney Gaels.

Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton has been at the helm of the Glengormley club this season and he has already guided them into the top-flight for 2020.

Like Sarsfield’s they will have their sights on the Intermediate title but face a tricky opener against the Ahoghill side who have plenty of experience and talent.

However, the North Belfast outfit has impressed all season with Joe Maskey, John McGoldrick and Cormac Ross leading the way and they will be fancied to emerge.

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