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Saffrons with spring in their step ahead of trip to Laois

Stephen Rooney bursts out of defence during Saturday’s game against Kerry Stephen Rooney bursts out of defence during Saturday’s game against Kerry
By David Mohan

Joe McDonagh Cup; Laois v Antrim
(Portlaoise, Saturday, 3pm)

WITH their opening round win now behind them, Antrim will travel to O’Moore Park this afternoon (Saturday) to take on a Laois team who are also riding high.

The midlanders scored an impressive 4-22 to 3-19 win away to Offaly on Saturday evening to lay down a marker for the competition and they too will hope to make it two wins from two when Neal Peden’s Saffrons visit.

Antrim thrice lost to Laois last year with the narrowest of defeats in the McDonagh Cup game in Dunloy, so they will be hoping for a repeat of their opening win against Kerry when they gain a bit of revenge for past defeats.

“Today (against Kerry) was a big day for us having lost to them in the League and our younger lads gelling in,” said Peden who dedicated the win to Seany Burns who died during the week.

“We aren’t relying on any one thing, but it’s about results and we won, so we have momentum. We will just get ready to head to Laois this week and try to push on again. We think we have a team where we can compete and it showed today we will.
“The manner of the win will certainly lift confidence and the belief is that now we can drive on.

“Once we get into that winning situation, we need to not look back, but keep driving on and that’s the key. That will give confidence to the whole team and the bench coming on.”

Certainly, Antrim will be heartened by the fact they had 13 different scorers at the weekend including the entire front eight and four subs.

This has shown progress as they have been almost too reliant on the same couple of players to do the bulk of the scoring and bodes well ahead of the trip to Portlaoise.

“When you saw the bench scored as well and that’s what we’ve been working on,” said the Antrim manager.

“We know we have great players like Neil (McManus) who is there and will do a certain role, but today the younger ones got the scores. The whole six forwards and the subs that came on got scores, so you can’t ask for more than that. What was also pleasing was how we drove on. We didn’t just think we’re two up or three up, we kept at them.

“People might talk about the wind, but we played a certain style of hurling that got us the win.”

Antrim will have Eoghan Campbell back this week as the Cushendall man returns from suspension and that will further bolster the squad ahead of what looks to be a defining game.

The training camp in Portugal also had a positive effect on the squad according to Peden who believes they are much tighter as a result.

“It’s about keeping the team and gelling the team and Portugal did that, no question,” he offered.

“When you are sitting eating with fellas or you’re with them all the time, playing their music in the gym and edging them on, that brings the cohesion. That’s what the team’s about and why you have the 30 guys.

“The (starting) 15 are lucky to get he chance to play, so we tell hem to wear the jersey with pride. I think you will see that on our sideline – they are much more cohesive.”

That cohesion resulted in Saturday’s performance when Antrim produced easily their best performance of the year.

Playing to their strengths instead of being sucked into a battle of attrition was the reason they were able to build a platform and then drive on to victory.

The manner of the win was also impressive as they kept their foot on the gas until the end and will therefore go to Laois on a high.

“We are a young, energetic team and we knew we could press their big, strong men,” he explained.

“They wanted to get us into the clasp of physicality, but we needed to get our running going and once we got the ball into space, we were much more agile and faster.

“We were solid and strong at the back and coped with the high ball, something we had been working on. We worked on the early delivery and we got that in, so things went to plan. If they do and your guys turn up, then we’re a force.

“There is only going to be a puck of the ball in these matches, but we’ve got off to a good start and we are pleased with the result, so we will look forward to Laois on Saturday.”

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