Saffrons seek further Ulster glory

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Antrim players go through a training session with coach Jackie Carson at Dunsilly on Wednesday evening

By Brendan McTaggart

 Ulster Minor Hurling Championship Semi-Final

Antrim vs Down

Venue: Corrigan Park

Throw In: 2pm

Antrim open their defence of the Ulster minor hurling championship with a tie against neighbours Down on Sunday afternoon at Corrigan Park.

Both sides come into the Semi-Final on the back of successful Celtic Challenge campaigns at under 17 level, the Saffrons had their hugely impressive win over North Cork in the Division Two Final while the Ardsmen accounted for Dublin Plunkett’s in the Division Three Final and while Antrim will start the Semi-Final as favourites, they know that Down will pose stern opposition.

They played each other twice in the group stages of the Celtic Challenge, the Saffrons winning narrowly on both occasions and while there will be numerous changes on both teams, both sides will know each other inside out.

The Saffrons are now under the management of Rossa club man Colly Murphy with Jackie Carson, Seamus McNaughton, Oliver Lennon, Aidan McHugh and Ronan McKenna completing his back room team.  Murphy told us that they saw the Celtic Challenge as a huge opportunity to solving a conundrum all county minor management are faced with when preparing for the Championship: “When we got together at the start of the year we decided to give the Celtic Challenge a real lash.  Use it for what it is and to our advantage as much as we could.  We felt that if we could get a few wins in that then it would bring a feel good factor about the camp.  How the lads played and winning it was a huge bonus.”

“With how the schools and exams are structured these days, it’s very different to how it was back in my day.  Back then it was fifth year and upper sixth who had exams, now the kids have modules and exams geared towards GCSE’s, A-Levels and AS-Levels from fourth year onwards.  Getting a squad of players together for training can be difficult never mind challenge matches.  The Celtic Challenge was the perfect solution to that problem for us.”

When pressed about the make-up of the Saffron starting 15 for Sunday, Murphy wouldn’t divulge too much but admitted we will see members of the successful Celtic Challenge team: “There’ll be four with possibly five starting and we have no concerns with that whatsoever.  I’ve watched these guys progress since February and they have come on leaps and bounds.  We have no fear over throwing them into the starting 15.  They’ve trained hard and I’ve seen a vast improvement, they’ll be as deserving as anyone to be out on the field on Sunday.”

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Antrim manager Colly Murphy chast to his players

The Under 17 squad have been training along with the minor and recently the U21 squads, Murphy told us that it was something that they wanted to do from the outset: “Having good numbers at training, over 40 lads, has meant that we’ve been able to have competitive in-house games.  Not having to worry about getting challenge matches has helped us to put our focus elsewhere.”

The Ardsmen are looking for a 13th Ulster crown and first since 2012 while the Saffrons are hoping for a fifth Ulster title on the bounce having dominated this competition with an impressive tally of 58 in their history.  Murphy and his team are aware that Down will be looking to spoil the Saffron party at Corrigan Park and will be on a crest of a wave from their own Celtic Challenge exertions: “They’ll be coming into this match buzzing after winning against Dublin Plunkett’s down in Carlow.  They have young O’Prey, Crickard and Costello who we’ll have to keep tabs on and when we’ve watched them we’ve been impressed with them.  They are a skilful bunch who are well tuned in to their game plan but our own lads are buzzing and we’re confident of progress.”

The Antrim team will be announced this evening at training in Dunsilly

 

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Conor McHugh (12) and Shane Magill, two members of last year’s team who are members of this year’s squad.

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Conor Boyd in action during last year’s Ulster Championship against Derry

 

 

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