Antrim hurlers have their eyes on the prize
By John Harrington
Two rounds into the Joe McDonagh Cup, and Antrim’s eyes are very much on the prize.
The Saffrons have played some really high quality hurling to win their two matches thus far against Meath and Carlow to shoot to the top of the table.
Their work-ethic, tactical smarts, and clinical score-taking have had all the hallmarks of a well-coached and highly motivated team.
If they can make it three wins from three against pointless Laois on Saturday they’ll take a big step towards a place in the McDonagh Cup Final in Croke Park which would also secure qualification for the Liam MacCarthy Cup preliminary quarter-finals.
According to Antrim goalkeeper Ryan Elliott, that’s a huge incentive for a team determined to better itself in the coming months and years.
“We got a taster for it during the League against the likes of Galway, Dublin, and Limerick and you want that as often as you can,” Elliott told GAA.ie.
“Winning this competition would get you that. It's a big source of motivation to get to play the bigger team.
“Everyone's dream is to play in Croke Park and there's an opportunity there for counties who maybe wouldn't normally get that opportunity as much as the bigger counties. It's a great incentive for all the teams.”
Sometimes with clubs maybe there's that much rivalry between them that some boys don't get on well with others and that, but everyone does get on with each other now
Antrim’s impressive form in the McDonagh Cup follows on from an encouraging League campaign in Division 1B of the Allianz League where they defeated Offaly and lost narrowly to Galway and Dublin.
After a period of turbulence and decline the Saffrons are on the up again, and Elliott puts this down to a new-found sense of unity within a panel previously sundered by club rivalries.
“I was on the panel last year and it's pretty much the same panel this year as it was last year. We're building a good bond together and a bit of spirit,” said Elliott.
“Sometimes with clubs maybe there's that much rivalry between them that some boys don't get on well with others and that, but everyone does get on with each other now. There's a good bond with this team.”
Now that there’s a collective will in place, Elliott is convinced there’s a way for Antrim to continue to get stronger and stronger as a senior inter-county team.
The foundation stone of a vibrant club scene has always been in place, and now they’re in a better position than they have been for some time to build upon it.
“100 per cent,” said Elliott. “Hurling is just your life. That's where your focus is always - on hurling. The clubs are strong, we just need everyone backing in behind the county teams.
“That's what's happening now. You can see that bigger crowds are starting to come to our matches again.”