A big task for young Saffrons but management optomistic

ATOWN NEWS 7Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship – Quarter-Final

Venue: Pairc Esler, Newry

Saturday July 22

Throw In: 6pm

By Brendan McTaggart

Antrim will travel to The Marshes on Saturday afternoon looking to create history in the All-Minor hurling championship.  Since the inception of the quarter-final stage in 1997, the Saffrons have failed to make the next step to the semi-finals.  Recent history shows that it will take a remarkable performance from the young Saffrons to buck that trend but they will travel to Pairc Esler with optimism more than hope with their recent success.

The Celtic Challenge victory was quickly followed by the retention of the Danny McNaughton trophy for the fifth successive year and while Antrim would have been favourites for the provincial crown, it would be remiss to neglect the performance of the young Saffrons.  Eight points was their winning margin over Derry in the Ulster Final and it could have been more but for a brief second half fight back from the Oakleaf County.

The continual improvement has been there for all to see in their Ulster campaign and the Saffron management believe that this current squad are capable of even more.  Cushendall and Antrim legend John Carson is part of the management set-up and he gave us his take on the young Saffs: “I can’t speak highly enough of this bunch of lads.  They have bought into everything that we have asked of them, not only them but their parents as well.  Essentially these lads have been training since the first week in February and the improvements I’ve seen since then have been night and day.  From the starting 15 for Saturday, there were two or three players who were average at best when we first got together, they’re now starting on Saturday.”

Antrim haven’t fielded the same team twice throughout the year in any of their campaigns and as ‘Jackie’ explained to us, it’s something that they’ve used to their advantage: “We’ve kept a philosophy through the year when it comes to picking the team.  We go on form and attitude and that’s towards management and the other players.  For us it’s as much about respect to us as well as each other on and off the pitch.  That’s just as important as ability on the pitch and we’ve seen a reaction from the players regarding that.  When they’re out training its top stuff and the lads are definitely not holding back.  They’re pushing each other to new levels and they know that their starting place is never a certainty.”

The Saffrons preparations were boosted with the presence of former All-Ireland winning coach Liam Sheedy.  The Tipperary native took a training session last weekend as part of the reward for the Celtic Challenge success.  Carson added: “After the Celtic Challenge we had hoped that Liam would come up for a training session ahead of this potential fixture and in fairness he was delighted to oblige.  He was surprised at the standard of the hurling during the training and also commented on the lad’s behaviour on and off the pitch.

“It was great for Liam to come in with the experience he has and cast his eyes on the squad.  The lads loved it and it definitely was a worthwhile exercise.”

With Ed McQuillan fit after recovering from a knock in a recent Darragh Cup match against Cushendall and Oisin McAuley available for selection after missing out on the Ulster final due to a family holiday, the Saffrons have a full panel to select from. The team was named on Thursday night and due for release today (Friday) and Carson told us that it wasn’t an easy job selecting the starting 15: “We have a fully fit panel of boys barring one or two lads who might be sore from training.  We named the team on tonight and there are some boys who are disappointed but we’ve stressed to them that it’s not a 15 man game.  It’s a 20 man game and I firmly believe that’s exactly what we have.  I’d be disappointed myself if there were boys who weren’t disappointed but that’s hurling.”

Four points separated The Dubs from Kilkenny in the Leinster Final with the Cats winning 3-15 to 1-17 but much like the Ulster Final where Derry hit back at Antrim, Dublin staged their own comeback with substitute Enda O’Donnell particularly impressing with his late cameo.  History would suggest that Antrim will be massive underdogs and Carson gave us his own thoughts on the match ahead: “We’re not silly.  We know that Dublin are raging hot favourites.  You just have to look at the dearth of talent that they have to choose from.  They could field six or seven minor teams capable of competing while we have a panel of 25 to 30 lads but we’re going to give it our best shot I can guarantee that.  We’ll see where we are with about 15 minutes to go and if we’re still in the game then we’ll throw everything at them but the lads are up for this game I can tell you.  Training has been brilliant and we feel like they’ve peaked at the right time.

“We’re on a hiding to nothing this weekend.  People are expecting us to go and get hammered but I can tell you we won’t be found wanting.  We’ve left no stone unturned and I firmly believe that this is the starting point for a new era of hurling in Antrim.  We fully believe in this team and with half of them it’s a shame it’s all change for next year.”

Can Antrim pull off an unlikely victory on Saturday?  History would suggest the negative.  It will take a special performance from the Saffrons and the Dubs to have an average day but if they can continue the improvement that have shown throughout the year and improve on their shooting from the Ulster final then they have a chance.  21 years is a long time to wait for an All-Ireland semi-final but records are there to be broken.  They have the players and pace to cause problems and if they get the breaks and rub of the green then a shock could be on the offing.

Team distort v Dublin

1 – Pól Mac Maoláin Paul McMullan Na hOisíní
2 – Oisín Mac Amhalaí Oisín Mc Auley Mac Uilín
3 – Scott Breathnach Scott Walsh Ruairi Og
4 – Feidhlim Ó Leannáin Phelim Lennon Naomh Bríd, Béal Feirste
5 – Seán Mac Goill Shane Magill Shane Uí Néill
6 – Conchúbar de Búit Conor Boyd Mac Uilín
7 – Rian Mac Fhearadhaigh Ryan McGarry Cú Chulainn
8 – Mícheál Mag Riabhaigh Mícheál McGreevy Ó Donnabháin Rosa
9 – Conchúbar Mac Aoidh Conor McHugh Roibeard Eimeid
10 – Éamonn Mac Uilín Ed McQuillan Ruairí Óg
11 – Colm Ó Scolláin Callum Scullion Cú Chulainn
12 – Niall Mac Cormaic Niall McCormack Ruairi Og
13 – Tiarnan Ó Murchú Tiarnan Murphy Ó Donnabháin Rosa
14 – Deaghlan  Mac Gabhann Deaghlan Smith Cú Chulainn
15 – Seán Mac Uileagóid Sèaan Elliott Cú Chulainn
16 – Ruairí Ó Géaráin Ruairi Sharpe Ruairi Og
17 – Prionsias Mac Corraidh Fred McCurry Ruairi Og
18 – Mánas Mac Gabhann Manus Smith Ó Donnabháin Rosa
19 – Anton Mac Craith Anton McGrath Cú Chulainn
20 – Cormac Mac Phaidín Cormac McFadden Na Seamróga
21 – Eoghan Mac Meanamin Eoghan McMenamin Ó Donnabháin Rosa
22 – Oisín Ó Donnaile Oiśin Donnelly Naomh Eoin
23 – Conor Mag Giolla Bhríde Connor Mc Bride Naomh Pádraig
24 – Marcas Mac Caomhanáigh Mark McCavanagh Ó Donnabháin Rosa
25 – Dubaltach Mac Aoidh-Baicéir Dubaltach Mac Aoidh-Baicéir Naomh Eanna
26 – Eoghan Mac Parthaláin Eoin McParland Naomh Eoin

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