John 'Rocky' Dillon gets the plaudits from Antrim hurling management team
ANTRIM'S joint manager Neal Peden has heaped praise on new full-back John ‘Rocky' Dillon after the big Armoy man's flawless performance against the Down hurlers last Saturday.
Described as “pound-for-pound, Antrim's best performer this year” by Dominic ‘Woody' McKinley, Peden echoed those sentiments.
Often a problem position for Antrim over the years, Dillon has been outstanding in helping the side clinch promotion and secure a semi-final berth in the Christy Ring.
“I think when the boys [Terence McNaughton and Dominic McKinley] were looking after the Ulster team they played ‘Rocky' at full-back.
“When we came in Tony McCloskey of Loughgiel was doing well at full-back.
“But when ‘Rocky' stepped in he's been leading the entire back-line. On the pitch he is very vocal and they're listening to him, and the communication they've developed between themselves has been important.
“After five minutes of the Down match we were very well organised at the back.”
The Armoy defender started the season in the Antrim attack as the team was short of ball-winning forwards. But since being moved back to the edge of the square, Antrim have looked rock solid and don't look like conceding goals.
“‘Rocky' takes great pride in his own performance and winning his own battle," Peden added.
"We weren't concerned about him coming up against big ‘Magic' [Gareth Johnston] because of the way he's been playing.”
Peden also lauded the fitness levels of the squad after winning six matches in six consecutive weeks and they now have a couple of weeks' break before their Christy Ring semi-final on May 20.
“It's been very tough on the boys,” said the St John's man.
“It's tough to try and pick it up every week. We're not getting the chance to get a look at some of the things we'd like to getting looking at.
“For instance, positional sense in midfield is one aspect of it, but you can't work on it to the right level because we were not able to put them through their paces in training because the matches were coming thick and fast.
“But what I'm really pleased with is the fitness levels of the players. We've got through these weeks and felt strong and it will help us next year in the higher division.”
Even when Down had a numerical advantage following Conor Johnston's 43rd minute red card, Antrim were able to lift their game and actually out-scored the Ardsmen 1-8 to 0-3 in that period.
“When we got a man sent off you could see how hard our forwards worked; the intensity levels in the forwards really got us the win.
“We know our lads have the hurling ability – it's about reaching the intensity where we're going to be playing the likes of Galway and Dublin, and we're trying to prepare them for that.”
“We just have to keep driving on. We've got the Christy Ring semi-final on May 20 and if we win that the the final is on June 10.”
The winners of this year's Christy Ring will go forward and take their place in this season's Leinster Senior Hurling Championship.