Antrim hurlers heading to Portugal ahead of Joe McDonagh campaign
THE Antrim senior hurlers are heading off to sunny Portugal for a four-day training camp as they prepare for next month’s Joe McDonagh Cup.
Through a players’ fund, the Antrim squad have managed to raise the money themselves through various initiatives - backed by the county board - as they want to leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of championship glory.
Previous Antrim senior squads in both football and hurling have had training weekends in Ireland but never in sunnier climes, while it became commonplace in the ‘Noughties’ for the better-off counties to send their elite teams abroad for Championship preparations.
The hurlers will spend four days at the famous hotel resort called Brown’s in Vilamoura which has been a training base for many elite teams both in GAA and professional sport for many years.
The fact that Antrim are investing in a training camp abroad is perhaps an indicator of the rising standards within the county.
It is understood the hurlers did not want to compromise the club-only month of April and will not miss any games with their clubs, even though they fly to Portugal at the end of this month.
It is understood Antrim officials have spoken to Croke Park about the trip to outline the reasons for the squad’s departure before April has lapsed and to stress that no club fixtures will be affected by the hurlers' training camp plans.
The very nature of the GAA’s inter-county calendar is also problematic for team preparations, particularly those counties competing in the Joe McDonagh Cup.
Antrim play their first Joe McDonagh Cup match on May 11 against Kerry in Dunloy, their base for the duration of the second tier competition.
Former Armagh boss Joe Kernan started the trend of staging pre-Championship training camps outside of Ireland with his Armagh teams regular visitors to La Manga.
In an interview with The Irish News last year, Kernan said the training camps were integral to Armagh's success during the early-to-mid-noughties.
“La Manga was unbelievable,” Kernan said. “Two sessions per day for three or four days, and one half-day off.
Tony McEntee also acknowledged the value of the trips.
“La Manga was brilliant; it was just a fabulous experience for us as a team – the amount of work we got in..."
Armagh's All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Benny Tierney recalled: "We ate, slept and drank football the whole time we were there. Not a beer. We were treated like professional soccer players. It was hard, hard work. We adopted a very professional approach."