THE Antrim hurlers won’t fall into the trap of admiring their own reflections ahead of Saturday’s date with destiny against Westmeath, according to Nigel Elliott.
The Saffrons delivered a truly heroic performance to overcome Offaly in their penultimate Joe McDonagh group stage clash last weekend, and they’ve been showered with praise from all corners of the country as a consequence of only their second ever championship victory over the Biffos.
Elliott assures that the players won’t get carried away with themselves ahead of Saturday’s crunch clash, and they’ll need to keep good on that promise to overcome a side which they have narrowly lost to on three separate occasions in the last year alone.
“In previous years after a big performance we might dwell on it and think we’d done great, and then gone out the next day and got beaten. This year we’re trying to take everything as it comes. The Offaly game is done and dusted and we’re treating the Westmeath game as a final.
“They beat us in penalties earlier in the year in the Kehoe final – we were leading by five points but they pegged us back and ended up winning, and they beat us by a couple of points in the league as well. It’s all on the day really so we’re looking to put in another big performance.”
The Dunloy forward was one of the heroes against Offaly, scoring a stylish 66th minute goal which turned out to be absolutely crucial as their opponents staged a late fightback.
Antrim’s togetherness was one of the defining differences between the two teams, however, and Elliott says their team trip to Portugal ahead of the championship has created a fraternal bond between the players.
“Some people gave off about the Portugal trip but it just shows you what three or four days away with the boys and the hard training can do. It created a bond between the players and management and we showed our intensity on the first day out against Kerry. We weren’t so good against Laois but we got our mojo back against Offaly. The hard work is paying off and we’re not looking too ahead of ourselves.”
One of the ingredients of Antrim’s success has been the contribution of their talented young Dunloy players. Elliott knows better than most the undoubted gifts of Keelan Molloy, but he also singles out a few other club colleagues for praise as well.
“Our Dunloy boys are doing well, the quality we have in the club is immense at the moment. Keelan Molloy is a great hurler but you’ve also the likes of Phelim Duffy. It’s his first year on the panel and he’s been phenomenal all year at corner-back. Nicky McKeague is also doing well in midfield, picking up a lot of dirty ball. It’s good to see my own clubmen doing well and keeping their place on the team.”
Saturday’s match will be hosted by Dunloy and Elliott hopes that the Antrim supporters make their presence felt on the terraces.
“We’d good support down in Offaly and I think that helped us over the finishing line. There are matches where there are only a handful of supporters but hearing the crowd get behind you really drives us on. Hopefully there’ll be a good turn-out in Dunloy as well.”
Antrim’s 4-18 to 2-23 victory over Offaly on a balmy afternoon in Tullamore was their most memorable win in quite some time, and Elliott says that the ‘fighting spirit’ is back in Antrim hurling.
“It was crazy, we had a slow start but we got our tails up before the first-half ended. We showed the grit and determination that we needed and it’s good to show that we have the fighting spirit back in Antrim.
“We have a never-say-die attitude and pulled it off. Offaly mightn’t be the force of old but they’re not a team you can take lightly with some of the forwards they have, and our win shows how far we’ve come as a team.”