Antrim's Neil McManus could miss most of National Hurling League season
ANTRIM could be without the influential Neil McManus for the majority of their Allianz Hurling League campaign, which gets under way this weekend.
The Cushendall star suffered a broken cheekbone during a challenge match against All-Ireland champions Tipperary on January 29, and is awaiting results that will reveal the full extent of the injury.
Between Cushendall’s run to the All-Ireland club final and his own travels, McManus didn’t feature for the Saffrons last year.
And his likely absence for most of their Division 2A campaign – which begins against London at Corrigan Park on Sunday – is a headache the management team of Terence McNaughton, Dominic McKinley, Gary O’Kane and Neil Peden could do without.
“I’m having another scan to see if it’s setting right but it’s very unlikely I’ll be involved,” said the 28-year-old at yesterday’s Allianz Hurling Leagues launch in Belfast.
“The first time I was in they said it was two months so we’re about a week into that.
I’ll be back as soon as I can, but I’ll be sensible enough with it too. You have to be careful, I’m not going to be stupid.
“We have a strong panel so I don’t think it’ll take away too much from the team.”
McManus first came on to the county panel a decade ago as one of a crop of promising young players but he is the first to admit they have not quite lived up to expectations.
After a disastrous 2016, during which manager PJ O’Mullan resigned after just five months in the job before Antrim lost to Meath in the replayed Christy Ring Cup final, the only way is up.
“Whenever I was coming through the ranks at minor level I know that the players we had were as good as anything in Ireland,” continued McManus.
“We still have really, really good players. I suppose the whole panel as a whole hasn't lived up to those standards.
“Your standards and your routines dictate where you go in life, in anything, let alone sport. What you do religiously, you do over and over again dictate where you go and they haven't been good enough in Antrim to date, at that level.
“The fact of the matter is that we were in Division 1A/1B in the first seven or eight years of my inter-county career and last year we played in 2A and we are in 2A again.
“I firmly believe we have the players to be competitive in 1A and 1B, but that's only food for thought. You deal with the reality of the situation.”
Working their way out of Division 2A is the first priority and, after a long, hard winter, McManus feels Antrim are in a good place.
“The pre-season was exceptionally tough - as tough a one as Antrim have probably done because fitness was an area that needed addressed.
“But also, whenever you put in those hard yards with the other members of your team, there’s nothing better. In a kind of sadistic sense, that horrible torture is brilliant for a team and pulling people together.
“Whenever you have worked really hard, you can see the honesty in it. On those cold nights in Jordanstown, you could see the honesty in it and that only gives people belief in each other and brings you on to a new level.
“The foundation block is honesty and trust. That’s where Antrim had to start and we’re no further than that, we haven’t played any matches, but we have worked very hard and the group have been very honest and very committed.”