McCann hoping for positive year for Antrim hurlers
By John Harrington
Conor McCann was a real Captain Fantastic for the Antrim hurlers in 2020.
The Creggan Kickham’s clubman scored 4-20 from play over the course of a Joe McDonagh campaign that ended with Antrim defeating Kerry in a keenly contested final at Croke Park last December.
Today he was announced as Joe McDonagh Cup Hurler of the Year in recognition of those exploits, and is one of seven Antrim hurlers to have made the Joe McDonagh Cup Team of the Year for 2020.
“It was unexpected, but nice to hear,” said McCann today of his Player of the Year award. "It's definitely a great honour, especially considering the year we had in 2020.
“It's good to get seven lads on the team and there were a few others unlucky not to make it as well. I know how hard all the lads worked, so it's nice to be honoured with them.
“It was a great year, unbeaten in the League and Championship. The way the calendar worked it helped us. We built up a really momentum over the short window of the Joe McDonagh Cup.
“It was Darren Gleeson's first year as manager and he put in a great backroom team.
“The players really enjoyed working with Darren and his set-up, everything was done really professionally.”
McCann made his debut for Antrim back in 2011 and has experienced some bad days along the way which makes last year’s success all the sweeter.
Antrim hurling feels like it’s in a better place now than it has been for some time, and the prospect of Division 1 and Leinster Championship hurling to come this year will only add to the positive vibes.
“There's a lot work going on behind the scenes," says McCann. "The Gaelfast seems to be gathering momentum and there's progress too on getting a green light to redevelop Casement Park. There's a lot of positivity behind hurling in Belfast and Antrim in general.
“Hopefully we can keep building on that. We know it's going to be tough this season up against the best teams, but when Antrim people get behind something and we build a bit of momentum up here, we're very hard to stop.
“We had huge support last year with the build up to the McDonagh Final and hopefully that will keep going and we can capitalise on it.
“We're definitely looking forward to competing, whenever down the road that is.”
McCann knows Division 1 of the Allianz Hurling League and the Leinster SHC will represent a serious step up in quality for this Antrim team, but it’s a challenge they’re keen to embrace.
“The thought of those matches is what's keeping us going at the minute,” he says. “We were down to play Clare at home in our first match and we're in a group with Kilkenny, Wexford, Laois and Dublin so lots of good matches to look forward to.
“That's the level we want to be playing at. We’re definitely going to be up against it but we're looking forward to it.
“You're coming up against top, top teams. We're hoping just to compete first of all. Anything after that would be a bonus
“I've heard people saying, even Donal Óg (Cusack) said it last year, that Antrim are going to get hidings from top teams next year and we hadn't even left the pitch after winning the Joe McDonagh Cup.
“We'll just try to be competitive first of all and then take it from there.”