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Neil McManus could feature for Antrim in Christy Ring Cup

Neil McManus could play for Antrim in their Christy Ring Cup tie against Kildare on April 23
Neil Loughran

FORMER Antrim captain Neil McManus could make a surprise return to county colours after making himself available for the Saffrons’ Christy Ring Cup opener against Kildare later this month.

The 28-year-old was expected to be absent for the entire inter-county season after Cushendall’s run to the All-Ireland Club final saw him miss the National League, with travel plans curtailing his involvement in the summer months.

However, following talks with interim management team member Dominic McKinley, McManus could feature against the Lilywhites on April 23. Indeed, as he is not scheduled to leave for foreign shores until May 10, the Ruairi Og ace could be involved until the quarter-final stages of the Christy Ring Cup on May 7 - provided Antrim get that far.

“Neil will be about until May 10 and he has made his services available,” said McKinley.

“If we feel we want to use him for those first few matches, we’ll use him and if we don’t, we won’t. He knows all about that, but we’ll do what’s right for the team and what’s right to stabilise this current situation. If that includes Neil McManus, or anybody else, we’ll do that.”

Alongside Terence McNaughton and Gary O’Kane, McKinley is part of the interim management team who have answered the county board’s SOS call following the shock departure of PJ O’Mullan last week.

Having managed the senior hurlers between 2007 and '09, McKinley and McNaughton are well aware of the task at hand as they bid to get Antrim back on track. A disappointing league campaign saw them suffer confidence-sapping defeats to Carlow, Westmeath and London as they missed out on promotion from Division 2A, culminating in O’Mullan’s exit after just 141 days in charge.

“It was disappointing surely, but they felt that - they’re looking to find ways out of it as well,” said McKinley.

“We can show them the way and we’re just hoping everybody gets on board. I know already speaking to one or two of them that they’re eager to get back at it because they have things to prove to people.”

The interim management team will remain in charge for the Christy Ring and Ulster Championship and McKinley insists he hasn’t given any thought to carrying on beyond that point.

“At this moment in time, I wouldn’t even think about it,” said the former Antrim star, who is heavily involved in coaching in schools and clubs around the county.

“I honestly thought I’d never be back in management in Antrim. I’m enjoying the work I’m doing, but I keep a very close eye on all the matches, my son [Conor] plays as well.

“I’m just trying to get my head around all that has gone on and trying to find the best solution for everybody. Once that time’s up, who knows? I don’t want to think about it that long-term.

“We want the same things as everybody else. We have done all of these things before and hopefully we have all learned form it. The three of us were honest, hard-working men when we played and that’s the type of things we’ll be bringing to the table and we’ll be looking the same in return. I don’t think we’ll have a problem getting that. Very little is needed to turn things around. We all know that - we’ve been around a long time.”

McKinley refused to comment on the inter-county future of Loughgiel forward Liam Watson, who left the panel before the game against London on March 20.

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