Antrim hurling manager, Darren Gleeson.
Antrim hurling manager, Darren Gleeson. 

Antrim hurling building on solid foundations under Foreman Gleeson


By John Harrington

To key to building something that will last is to first get a solid foundation in place and take it from there.

That’s been the experience of the Antrim hurlers since Darren Gleeson was appointed manager in September 2019.

The Tipperary native put fundamentals in place from the very start that he has stuck by and which quickly earned a buy-in from the players.

There have been one or two blips along the way, but the form they showed this year in the Division 1 of the Allianz Hurling League and during the run to Saturday’s Joe McDonagh Cup Final have underlined how far the Saffrons have come.

For long-serving captain, Eoghan Campbell, being involved in a set-up which is based on a clear-eyed vision and methodical planning has been a hugely satisfying experience.

“I’ve been on the panel for 10 years and we were up around Division 1, then down and up,” said Campbell. “Since Darren’s come in the last two or three years there has been a level of professionalism brought to Antrim hurling.

“We’ve had buy-in from the best players in the county. It’s shown in our progress, our consistency. Especially our league campaigns the last two years. We had a dip in the championship last year but the Joe McDonagh has given us a base to build back up.

“It's a lot more enjoyable when you’re winning, when you’re playing well."

"Since Darren’s come in, we’ve only had one or two changes in the squad. We’re tight-knit. Everyone knows their role. We have a structure that we do play too. That’s evident when our subs come on and make an impact.

“We’ve some of the best hurlers in Ireland, some of the best young stars. We’ve Sean Elliott, Keelan Molloy, James McNaughton and we’ve also Neil McManus who has been there a while. All exceptional talents who are allowed express their talent.”

Eoghan Campbell of Antrim during the Joe McDonagh Cup Final media event at Croke Park in Dublin.
Eoghan Campbell of Antrim during the Joe McDonagh Cup Final media event at Croke Park in Dublin.

If Antrim are now profiting from having all the best players in the county wanting to wear the Saffron jersey, the obvious question is why are they doing so now if they didn’t always in the past?

“Having a high profile person like Darren Gleeson helps,” says Campbell. “It was more what he brings to it himself. There were times when you were waiting in the car park to see who shows up. Darren came in and demanded it.

“Being an All-Ireland winner with Tipperary and seeing what it takes to drive it on. Having a vision of where he wanted Antrim to be, and all of us to be. We were probably a bit rudderless. We had no stepping stones, no vision, no plan.

“The players seen that Darren had this. if you wanted to step away, no one would hold any grudges.

“A lot of the younger players came on after winning with younger teams. So they thought, 'if we’re going to come into this we’re going to do well'. I think that’s why players bought into it.”

Antrim manager Darren Gleeson speaks to his players at the water break during the 2021 Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group B Round 1 match between Antrim and Clare at Corrigan Park in Belfast, Antrim. 
Antrim manager Darren Gleeson speaks to his players at the water break during the 2021 Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group B Round 1 match between Antrim and Clare at Corrigan Park in Belfast, Antrim. 

Antrim aren’t now just a better drilled and more tactically astute team than they were before Gleeson arrived on the scene. They’re also fitter, which enables them to carried out hard hard-working brand of hurling their manager espouses.

“The strength and conditioning, we have Brendan Murphy in with us,” says Campbell.

“It was there before but nearly pick and choose when you go. Now there’s individualised sessions, rehab sessions, recovery sessions, all tailored.

"Supplements, it’s all there for us. Boys are working long days, it’s all laid out now.

“There were times going to train in Jordanstown for the winter and the pitch might not have been there.

“The release going to training that you don’t have to worry about anything is a lot better for players. Even getting sticks sorted, or not waiting on gear.

“Expenses all being paid now. There’s an accountability on both sides which has drove it on.”

Campbell mentions the benefit of Gleeson having a vision that the players all readily buy in to. So what precisely is that vision? Where do they want to get to?

“I think the vision is to be consistent at the top flight,” he says. “The last two years of the league we’ve been starting to do that – the next step is to win those games.

“We beat Clare in the league last year, drew with Wexford. Realistically, the vision is to do that consistently. Make a dint in the championship.

“If we win or lose Saturday, we get a crack at either Wexford or Cork. I’d say us or Kerry have no problem playing either in a qualifier.

“Both teams will be looking forward to making a dint in the Liam MacCarthy. That’s the vision. Making a dint in the Liam MacCarthy and Leinster championship.”