McAuley commits to Antrim but warns players at breaking point
ANTRIM hurling ace Neal McAuley believes the demands of playing inter-county hurling have reached breaking point – but still plans to be wearing the saffron jersey in 2016.
It will be McAuley’s 11th successive year playing for his county, but each year gets harder and harder. He has a 14-month-old child and his wife is expecting their second baby in two weeks’ time.
“I hope to be back with Antrim next year,” he said.
“I’ve obviously family commitments, but if I’m fit to play I’ll put my name forward.”
While the 28-year-old centre-back is adamant there’s sufficient talent in the county, he believes it has become increasing difficult for counties like Antrim to get their best players out on the pitch.
“The talent is definitely there, but inter-county hurling is so tough these days and with so little reward," he added.
"It’s become a young man’s game. It’s really a game for students. You’re training four or five nights a week. You have to train like a professional athlete and some of the jobs that the older players have means it’s difficult for them. People with young families, the travelling to games… It’s not as easy as it was a couple of years ago. But there is no doubt we have the hurlers in Antrim, it’s just getting all the best players out on the pitch.”
The Antrim County Board is still sifting through applicants to see who will be the next senior hurling manager. Former Kilkenny 'keeper Michael Walsh has been linked to the job, while former Loughgiel Shamrocks boss PJ O’Mullan Jr has expressed interest in the vacancy.
“I really have no preference," said McAuley.
"Whoever the best man is for the job should get it. There are definitely good enough people in Antrim, but it’s a massive commitment too."
At club level, McAuley was still ruing Ballycastle's county championship final defeat to Ruairí Óg, Cushendall just nine days ago. The McQuillan’s club led by nine points in the first half, but somehow managed to lose by four points to the defending champions.
Former McQuillan’s player Ronan Donnelly took the reins midway through the season and did an incredible job to guide them to this year’s decider. But Donnelly is undecided about whether to continue in the role or return to working with the underage teams at the Ballycastle club.
“If Ronan stayed on it would be brilliant," McAuley said.
"He gets on with the players so well. He’s a great manager of people. He wears his heart on his sleeve. It’s black and white with Ronan. It would have been great had we won it because Ronan never got to win a Championship during his playing days. I don’t know what Ronan will do. He’s heavily involved at underage and he has a young family and a business. It’s a massive commitment.
"Managing any club side is a full-time job. The amount of hours that man has put in, it’s just a tough role for anybody to take on. Obviously, the players hope he will stay on and that we can go one step further next year.”
On their epic clash with Cushendall, McAuley added: “We hadn’t been in a county final for 14 years and to perform quite well in the final gives us hope going forward. If we keep this team together, it will give us hope in the future that we can get over the line.
“I’ve spent a long time thinking about it. It was so frustrating. The game went so quickly. It was over in the blink of an eye. You’ll only get that kind of intensity a couple of times per season and they always come in the big Championship games, the knock-out games. It was great to play in. Hopefully we can get back to another final again next year”.