Neil McManus: ‘Our goal is to get back into the Liam McCarthy’
By Cian O'Connell
Every team competing is entering the opening weekend of the Christy Ring Cup armed with a sense of anticipation and carrying some expectation.
That is exactly the way Antrim’s talisman Neil McManus wants it to be. The Saffrons have already realised one 2017 objective by earning promotion into Division 1B of the Allianz Hurling League, now Antrim want to claim summer silverware.
“Yeah, 100%, we have made no secret about it,” McManus says. “The goal at the start of the year was to get back into Division 1B and to get back into the Liam McCarthy. That is how you attract the best players in your county to play for the county team against the big teams.
“Next year in the League we will be playing Offaly, Dublin, Laois, Galway, and Limerick. Those will be massive games for us, we have might two or three of those games in Cushendall.
“They will be big, big days. I know you could say people are coming to see the Joe Cannings and the Cian Lynchs, but still it will attract crowds.
"It doesn't come any bigger in the Christy Ring this year than Antrim v Carlow."
“It will help us too because there is probably half a dozen players out there, who with a bit of persuasion and when they see those big games will be involved in the panel next year. It will be massive for us, starting on Saturday now we have to try to get back into the Liam McCarthy proper.”
Saturday’s Netwatch Cullen Park encounter between Carlow, who are gathering belief under Colm Bonnar, and Antrim features two of the main Christy Ring Cup contenders.
“It doesn't come any bigger in the Christy Ring this year than Antrim v Carlow,” McManus admits. “It is a big game, there is nothing between us. We drew in the League, we just got beyond them in the League Final, there will be nothing in it on Saturday.
“There probably isn't two teams in Ireland who know more about each other than Antrim and Carlow. We have played so much over the past five, six, seven seasons.
“In 2010 we just got by them in a cracker of a Qualifier game in Casement Park and then we beat Dublin the next day out at Croke Park. It shows you where Carlow were at then, now we are still neck and neck. We just seem to mirror each other almost.”
Returning to the highest level in the All Ireland Hurling Championship remains Antrim’s burning ambition. “We are aiming to win it, so are Carlow, so are Kildare, there is very little between the teams,” McManus states. “On any given day anyone can beat each other, but our goal is to get back into the Liam McCarthy. That starts on Saturday.”
"People know the desire and complete enthusiasm those men have for Antrim hurling."
Sambo McNaughton and Dominic McKinley’s passion for the Antrim cause continues with McManus acknowledging their significant influence.
“Without doubt, they have given so much of their time,” McManus remarks. “They both played for Antrim for about 15 years at senior level, I think this is Dominic's third stint and Sambo's second, they have brought in Gary O'Kane, another Antrim legend and Neil Peden, who played for Antrim as well. The one thing they asked us for from day one is honesty and hard work.
“They have got that back, there is no doubt about it. The players have worked extremely hard this year, that doesn't guarantee any level of success either.
“The fact that we have worked very hard just means it is a beautiful thing to be involved in when everybody works so hard, I think that comes from management. People know the desire and complete enthusiasm those men have for Antrim hurling. People want to work hard, that is what is happening.”
Neil McManus was speaking at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge. After a very successful first year, the Celtic Challenge returns for the second year with a new title sponsor – Bank of Ireland. The Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge is a national hurling development competition that celebrates mass participation and includes several exciting new initiatives in the game.