Many view Antrim’s resurgent 2010 season as a sign that Dinny Cahill is once again taking us in the right direction – but last summer’s heroics in Croke Park were only moments away from being erased before they happened. On a pleasant July afternoon, as several thousand supporters filed in to Casement Park to watch the double header of qualifier games Carlow almost caused a major upset. In their first season in the McCarthy Cup, the visitors flew out of the blocks and led by eight points in the first-half before Antrim could get any sort of momentum. Liam Watson rattled the net from a trade-mark penalty, while PJ O’Connell also netted crucially for the Saffrons. With less than five minutes remaining the Carlow lead was just a single point and only a late volley of scores in injury time allowed Antrim to scrape into the second round on a score of 2-18 to 3-12. Had Carlow not lost the influential Dennis Murphy to injury, the result could have been so different on the day. The fact that Antrim went on to shock Dublin in Croke Park will have both encouraged and frustrated Carlow, who now know they are more than deserving of their place in the top tier of Championship hurling.

That kind of form makes for a real turnaround since Antrim so efficiently put Carlow to the sword in the 2006 Christy Ring Final. On that day, a rampant Saffron side hammered five goals to their opponent’s net, the game effectively over after fifteen minutes. Both sides reacted differently to the result in Croke Park that day. Antrim struggled to re-establish themselves in the top flight, while Carlow regrouped, winning consecutive Ring Cups in 2008 and 2009, and their promotion to McCarthy Cup status.

Carlow arrive in Belfast today on the back of a morale boosting and hard fought win over Kerry, the Barrowsiders having been reduced to 13 men for most of the second half when they outscored their opponents by 1.10 to 0.4. Victory today would represent sustainable progress for the visitors. Meanwhile, Antrim’s task is to bounce back from consecutive defeats, although in the game against Clare in particular, Antrim left a real mark on the game and will have drawn positives from that performance. Today would be a good time to put an end to the losing sequence.

Conor Caldwell