Westmeath v Antrim, Cusack Park, Sunday, 3pm
Antrim travel to Westmeath on Sunday on a revenge mission after last season’s shock defeat at the hands of the Midlanders.
Westmeath were reduced to 14 men in the first half and were six points down but prevailed by two in the end and set the tone for a miserable summer for Antrim, subsequently losing by 32 points to Limerick in the qualifiers.
Kevin Ryan’s men maintained their 1B status with a play-off win over Carlow and will hope to build on that as they begin a three-year plan.
Corner-forward Shane McNaughton says that they are much more focused this time around and complacency won’t be an issue.
He told the Irish News: "There was a lot of stuff going on throughout the game, on and off the pitch, and I think a lot of our heads might have suffered because of that. But it's a much more focused panel this year, we know what we need to do."
The men from the Lake County will still be disappointed that they failed to win promotion from 2A after losing to Laois in the final, especially after beating them in the regular season.
Manager Brian Hanley now presides over a much-changed side with only four players who played in last season’s Division 2A final lining out against the O’Moore County last month.
He told the Irish News that last season’s result will have no bearing on Sunday’s tie.
"Antrim have a new manager and new players, they are a different animal now. That game has no relevance to this year because we have a completely new team, we have a completely new backroom team," he said.
Hanley will have to plan without wing back Philip Gilsenan, who suffered a knee injury in a club game.
Simon McCrory is missing though injury for the Ulster side.
Although Antrim only claimed one win in the league proper, against Carlow, they were within a goal of taking points off both Limerick and Offaly and another performance along those lines should see them book a Round 1 clash with Laois on 18 May.
Antrim: Ryan Mc Garry, Barry McFall, Arron Graffin, Mark McFadden, Conor McKinley, Neal McAuley, Jackson McGreevey, Mathew Donnelly, Tony McCloskey, Paul Shiels, Neil McManus (c), Eddie McCloskey, Shane McNaughton, Conor Carson, Stephen Beatty.
Westmeath: To follow...
Live radio coverage of the Allianz NHL Final, Kilkenny v Tipperary, from 14:00 on Sunday 5 May on RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ RnaG and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide). Highlights of all the weekend’s action on League Sunday on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only) from 20:00.