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Race for the Volunteer Cup gets underway

Rossa’s Mícéal McGreevy, pictured in action against Loughgiel in last year’s Championship, is one of five players who won’t feature in Friday night’s first leg tie against Ballycastle due to injury Rossa’s Mícéal McGreevy, pictured in action against Loughgiel in last year’s Championship, is one of five players who won’t feature in Friday night’s first leg tie against Ballycastle due to injury
By Paddy Tierney

THE ANTRIM Club Championship season gets underway in earnest this evening (Friday, 7.30pm) when Rossa host Ballycastle in the two-legged Senior Hurling Championship preliminary round tie.

McQuillan’s, of course, are no strangers to this format, having played in the preliminary round last year when the group stages were first introduced. However, the North Antrim men will be hoping to fare much better than they did in 2018.

The contest was all but over after the first leg as St John’s eased to a 5-17 to 1-15 victory in Ballycastle before also claiming the spoils at Corrigan Park, 2-21 to 2-13 to ensure a comfortable 22-point aggregate victory.

This time around, Ballycastle will be on the road first and uppermost in the minds of Chris ‘Bamba’ McAuley and his players will be keeping the contest alive going into the return leg and that’s also the aim of Colly Murphy and the Rossa players.

“I think the format is better than a straightforward knock-out as it gives the players two Championship games,” said Murphy.

“In a knockout Championship, you could play two games in two years. The more quality games, the better – I am all for it. If you get through, you are guaranteed another two games in the Championship. Sometimes, you wouldn’t get that in three or four seasons.

“As long as you are still in the game for the second leg, you will always travel in hope. You don’t know what kind of a team you’d have for the second leg – it is on August 11. Whatever happens on Friday, I think there’ll still be all to play for in the second leg.”

As fate would have it, these sides met last Friday in a dress rehearsal up in Ballycastle with the Shaws Road men coming back to the city with two points following a 1-15 to 0-8 victory.

Less than 48 hours later, Rossa claimed their second away win of the weekend with a 4-9 to 2-10 defeat of St Gall’s at Milltown Row.

Four points from two games gives Rossa a bit of breathing space in the battle to avoid the drop to Division Two, although Murphy insists their top-flight status is far from secured.

“The game was a bit a non-runner for both teams,” added Murphy.

“They were missing a lot of players and so were we. We’ve been missing players throughout the season with injuries. We’ve a few players back for the this week and it will be a different team and we are looking forward to it.

“We wouldn’t be out of danger in the league just yet, but we had two wins over the weekend and we came through the two games with no new injuries which was the main thing. We still won’t be at full strength for Friday’s game. That’s just what happens when you are a dual club. Guys play both codes and the chances of injury increases.

“It is the nature of the beast. When we are at full strength, we are up there. We mightn’t be up there with the top two or three teams, but we can certainly hold our own. It would be nice at some stage this season to get a full team out.”

James Connolly is ruled out of Friday’s game through injury, while Ciaran Orchin, Eoghan O’Neill, Dominic McEnhill and Mícéal McGreevy are among those unlikely to feature.

Thankfully for Rossa, the quintet should return for the second leg in Ballycastle on Sunday, August 11.

The winners of the preliminary round game will go into the same group as Dunloy and Cushendall, the last two winners of the Volunteer Cup with Loughgiel, St John’s and St Gall’s in the other group. However, the only thing on Colly Murphy’s mind is getting over the line in the preliminary round at the expense of ‘The Town’.

“Ballycastle or ourselves will be in for a tough challenge in the group stages, but we aren’t looking too far ahead,” added the Rossa boss.

“Our priority is to win these two games and anything after that will be a bonus. Ballycastle and ourselves – there’s unlikely to be anything more than a puck of a ball between us.”

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