New Antrim boss Neal Peden looks ahead to Kehoe Cup semi-final clash with Kildare
Kehoe Cup semi-final: Antrim v Kildare (tomorrow, Abbotstown, 2pm)
A PLACE in the Kehoe Cup final and another competitive game to bridge the gap until the clash with Kerry in their National Hurling League opener on January 27 is the prize for Antrim at Abbotstown in Dublin tomorrow.
Kildare, the side the Glensmen saw off in last year’s Joe McDonagh/Christy Ring Cup promotion/relegation shoot-out, are the opposition at the National Sports Campus just off the M50 and Antrim manager Neal Peden is looking forward to what should be a valuable test for his young side.
Peden, who stepped up to take over as manager after Terence McNaughton and Dominic McGinley decided to call it a day at the end of last season, has come through a difficult time since his appointment as county manager was confirmed.
The former Rathmore Grammar School teacher had found previously routine chores like going up the stairs at home were leaving him out of breath so he wisely decided to visit his doctor.
His GP sent him off to casualty and Peden was immediately admitted to hospital where he spent a week receiving treatment for blood clots on his lungs. The good news is that he has made a complete recovery.
“I was lucky I went when I did!” he said.
“I got a good MOT when I was in and at the moment everything looks good, I’m feeling much better.
“It was one of those things that could have happened to anybody – it was nothing to do with county management!”
Peden returned to training two weeks ago and he’ll travel with the team to Abbotstown tomorrow for the semi-final clash. The winners will meet either Westmeath or Meath in the final on January 20.
“We are stepping up a level and we’re looking to see a performance,” he said.
“We have a lot of new players in this year who are feeling their way and this will only be their second inter-county game with a competitive nature so it’s about seeing how they cope with the step up from club level.”
Experienced campaigners like John Dillon, Simon McCoy, Caolan Molloy and Nigel Elliott will provide the leadership for the new faces on this year’s Antrim panel. Dunloy pair Mickey McKaigue and Phelim Duffin, who has slotted in at corner-back, this season, have both impressed and Ulster University trio Kevin Price, Conor McHugh and James O’Connell will all travel with the squad tomorrow.
“They are so keen, so enthusiastic,” said Peden.
“Our intensity at training has been really, really good over the last couple of weeks and we’re really looking forward to the games. We want to get the boys out to see where they are on the pitch.
“It’s alright seeing them hitting all their targets at training but we want them out on the pitch to see if they can play in the format we want to play in.”
Anthony Daly has been recruited to help out with the team but neither he nor Peden come equipped with a magic wand so turning Antrim’s fortunes around will take time and a lot of effort.
Building a cohesive team unit is central to Peden’s plans and that is a good place to start. Antrim players don’t lack ability and the men in Saffron racked up some impressive totals last season but too often they resorted to playing like a team of individuals and some of their good work was undone. Peden wants to make his side a tougher nut to crack.
“We have to play as a team,” he said.
“We have to get the buy-in that we play in a certain way and make sure that everybody knows our structure. We have flair players on our team and nobody underestimates that but we want to play to a system, in a structure so that everybody understands what we want to do and what they have to do.
“If you look at our results last year, we were scoring well but we were also letting in a lot of high scores and that is something we have to try and deal with.
“We have the scoring power but we have to curtail other teams because teams come and say: ‘Antrim will score but we can score more’. We have to look at that and try and nullify our opponents and stop them getting these vital scores at vital times.
“We don’t want to take away anybody’s natural flair but it’s not about individuals. People have to work within the system and we have to work to our strengths because we need a blend of players who are going to work together in our system and understand other players.
“That is the key and that is the plan we’re trying to get across to the players.
With Neil McManus contributing 2-10, last year’s meeting with Kildare ended in a 12-point (3-23 to 1-17) win for Antrim.
Peden’s men would benefit from winning tomorrow and going on to the final the following weekend would be ideal preparation for their Division 2A opener against an improving Kerry side that finished third in the division last season.
“At the moment it’s about performance,” said Peden.
“If we put the performance in we’ll have a chance to beat Kildare who are a good team. We have played them a number of times in the past few years so we know what to expect from them.
“They are starting their year off and if they can beat Antrim it drives them on for the season. We want to make sure we put a high-intensity performance in but we’re happy with the way our young players are coming through and another match the following week would be great. That’s what we’d be looking for.”
He added: “It’s about intensity and workrate and if we can get that in and play with the hurling that we have we’ll be happy. It’s about effort and commitment at the moment.
“We’ll be working hard on the hurling during the week and getting plans put in place for the structural format of our team and that will take a while, that’s going to take a few weeks to get in place.”