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Saffrons seeking a winning start against the Kingdom

Antrim attacker Nigel Elliott comes under pressure from Kerry’s Shane Conway during January’s league clash at Corrigan Park. The Kingdom emerged from that tie with a two-point victory and Antrim will be hoping to overturn that result when they host Kerry in their Joe McDonagh Cup opener on Saturday evening in Dunloy Antrim attacker Nigel Elliott comes under pressure from Kerry’s Shane Conway during January’s league clash at Corrigan Park. The Kingdom emerged from that tie with a two-point victory and Antrim will be hoping to overturn that result when they host Kerry in their Joe McDonagh Cup opener on Saturday evening in Dunloy
By Paddy Tierney

Joe McDonagh Cup Round One
Antrim v Kerry (Saturday, 5pm, Dunloy)

ANTRIM hurling manager, Neal Peden hopes his side can reap the rewards of a recent training camp in Portugal when they host Kerry in Saturday’s Joe McDonagh Cup opener in Dunloy.

The Saffrons spent five days in the resort of Vilamoura at the end of April after receiving permission from Croke Park to head away as the trip didn’t interfere with any club fixtures.

It is understood the trip was the first of its kind for an Antrim senior squad, but GAA officialdom are set to crack down on overseas training from next year.

Peden insists Antrim’s build-up to the Joe McDonagh Cup has been aided by the training camp and he relished the opportunity to run the eye over his squad in a professional environment.

“We went there for the right reasons. It was something the players wanted to do and we felt it would give us the right build-up for Joe McDonagh Cup,” stated Peden.

“That’s all we can really say. It was a good trip. We really upped the training during the camp, everything was done with a great intensity and everything really went to plan from our perspective.

“When you go away on a training camp like that, everything is condensed into five days and you are with the players all the time. You are in a professional environment, the food is laid out for them and you are trying to get their energy levels up to a point when they can go and play to that intensity. Back home, you aren’t in control of that – the players are. It is about trying to educate them about the diets and the fluids. In a training camp, we can monitor their workloads with the GPS. It is also about getting to know the person as well as the player.”

Peden is fully aware of the fact that there is no margin for error in the McDonagh Cup with four matches condensed into a five-week spell.

Meath were relegated from the second tier last season with Antrim defeating Christy Ring Cup winners, Kildare in a play-off game in Armagh to retain their Joe McDonagh Cup status last summer.

Offaly have dropped down from the Liam MacCarthy Cup, while Laois, Westmeath and Kerry will provide stern opposition to Peden’s men.

The Antrim boss knows this weekend’s clash against the Kingdom could go a long way to determining if the Saffrons will be challenging for a final berth or battling relegation once more.

“We know that it is all about getting momentum,” said Peden.

“There will be a puck of a ball between all the teams. It is about getting that start and getting momentum.

“That’s always been our aim in the Joe McDonagh Cup and we won’t shy away from that. It is a results-driven game and want to get the result.

“You only have four or five weeks to try and reach that level of intensity. We want to hit the ground running, reach those levels and keep it there.”

Peden also knows Antrim don’t have a great record over Kerry in recent times with Fintan O’Connor’s side claiming a narrow 1-21 to 2-16 victory over Antrim at Corrigan Park in the Division 2A hurling league back in January.

“I’ve said it from the start. People talk about where Antrim should be, but we can’t be anywhere unless we go into this Joe McDonagh Cup and beat these teams who have beaten us over the last number of years,” added the Antrim boss.

“We have to start beating them and then we can progress to become a better team. That’s what we are trying do, but it is going to be very difficult. A few of those teams have nipped us in recent games, not by much, but they’ve pipped us at the post.

“We have to get over the line and make sure we are beating them. We know how important this competition is.”

Peden is hoping to have close to a full panel of players to select from when the Kingdom visit Dunloy this Saturday.

St John’s defender Simon McCrory, however, has stepped away from the panel in recent weeks.

Naomh Éanna’s Joe Maskey has recovered from a back injury and is expected to feature, but James O’Connell of Clooney Gaels is likely to miss out.

With back-to-back trips to Portlaoise and Tullamore to come in rounds two and three, Antrim really can’t afford to slip up against Kerry this Saturday.

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