Hurling and camogie

Antrim's Simon McCrory hails impact of Ciaran Clarke

 Clarke has been the stand-out player in this season’s Christy Ring amassing an incredible 2-33 over three games
Picture by Seamus Loughran

ANTRIM hurler Simon McCrory has lauded the impact of team-mate Ciaran Clarke for yet another virtuoso display after the Saffrons clinched their place in next month’s Christy Ring Cup final.

Clarke has been the stand-out player in this season’s Christy Ring by a considerable distance, amassing an incredible 2-33 over three games.

After Antrim edged past Down in last Saturday’s epic semi-final at Loughgiel, McCrory heaped praise on Clarke for his “coolness and composure” in pressure situations.

The McQuillan’s, Ballycastle sharp-shooter hit 0-16 (0-13 frees and 0-1 65) against the Ardsmen and gave the pass for Conor Carson’s crucial three-pointer just after half-time that swung the game in Antrim’s favour.

He also assisted for Nigel Elliott’s major against Roscommon which finally broke the Connacht men’s resistance.

McCrory, who was the pick of Antrim’s defenders against Down, said: “Clarkey’s got that coolness and composure that makes you a great player.

"He’s first class and we’re very, very lucky to have him on our team.

“The work he does off the ball – not just his scores – makes it a hell of a lot easier when you’re coming out of defence. He makes space for other people. I believe he’s as good as any other forward in the country.

“But we have to step up because we can’t leave it to the likes of Clarkey to do it for us every time.”

Clarke (right) has been Antrim’s top scorer in each of their Ring Cup wins over Kildare, Roscommon and Down. He was responsible for over half of Antrim’s final tally in games against Kildare (2-10) and Down (0-16) and claimed a third of his side’s scores against Roscommon (0-7).

Christy Ring finalists Meath, who overcame Kildare in Sunday’s semi-final, have been well warned.

McCrory insisted that the Saffrons will need to improve significantly for the June 4 decider at Croke Park after “quite a poor” performance last Saturday.

The St John’s man also praised Down boss and club-mate Mickey Johnston for the way in which the visitors pushed Antrim right to the wire.

“Mickey Johnston is a club-mate of mine and I know what way he sets up his teams and I knew they’d be highly motivated,” said McCrory.

“He’s clued in and he watches a lot of hurling and he knows us inside out; he knows hurling inside out. Everything that we expected from Down was thrown at us, and more. I felt we were actually very lucky to get out of it because we were quite poor.”

The 29-year-old wing-back added: “I think there is more in this team. It’s just trying to get that confidence back. There is a lot more in us.”

McCrory will make his third appearance at Croke Park on Saturday week after wearing the saffron jersey with distinction against Championship opponents Dublin and Cork in 2010.

“At 29 I’ll not have too many more trips to Croke Park,” he said.

“We’ve been trying to focus on getting to Croke Park. We’re far from the finished article but we’re back on the horse and we’re going in the right direction.

“There’s a lot of improving to do. We’ll not get ahead of ourselves because Meath will be a big, big challenge. We’re massively looking forward to it and we hope everyone in the county gets behind us. Our supporters were brilliant against Down – they roared us on when we needed it.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access

Hurling and camogie