We will fight for each other to the last: Antrim hurler Ryan McCambridge
RYAN McCambridge says the sense of togetherness among the Antrim hurlers was key to their brilliant 14-point victory over Kerry in the opening round of the Joe McDonagh Cup in Dunloy on Saturday.
Afterwards, manager Neal Peden acknowledged the importance of the squad’s four-day training camp in Portugal at the end of last month in preparation for the McDonagh Cup campaign.
If some cynics imagined the Antrim players sunning themselves on the Algarve and drinking beer, think again.
McCambridge said: “Portugal was the hardest training I’ve ever done in my life. The physicality and effort that everybody put in was immense.
“We’d three or four training sessions per day out in Portugal. Everything was catered for us, we looked after ourselves and we’d plenty of people behind us to make sure our recovery was perfect and we were ready for the next training session.
“It stood to us against Kerry. You could see we had the legs at the end of the game.”
Saturday’s victory was one of the most impressive from an Antrim side for several seasons, especially against a Kerry side they couldn’t figure out.
They relegated Antrim to Division 2A in a relegation/promotion play-off in 2015 and forced the Saffrons into a Joe McDonagh Cup relegation/promotion play-off last season after defeating them in Cushendall.
In January, Kerry beat them again in the opening game of Division 2A at Corrigan Park.
On Saturday, they limited Kerry to just four points from open play, while 3-13 of Antrim's 3-19 tally came from play.
“I don’t know how many times we’ve faced Kerry over the last few years and we haven’t got the results against them,” said Cushendall clubman McCambridge.
“We’ve trained hard over the last two months and we’ve put the hard yards in.
“The bond the players have is ridiculous. Everyone has trust in each other. We all work together and we’d do absolutely anything for each other - which is no different to previous years - but it’s a lot more evident this year. Everybody was willing to do anything to win that game against Kerry and wanted to win the next ball for each other.
"There was a lot of pressure going into the game, and thankfully we’ve got the result. We’ve Laois next Saturday down in Laois, which is another massive game.”
Goals from Ciaran Clarke, Nicky McKeague and Nigel Elliott reinforced Antrim’s superiority over Kerry last weekend.
All six Antrim forwards, including the ball-winning McCambridge, had scored from play within the opening half hour in Dunloy.
The last couple of years I’ve been playing in the forwards and in my younger years as well. But since I broke into our club senior team I was put into corner-back, but I like to run and get forward.
“The club started playing me at wing-forward so I hope I can keep my position in the half forward line for Antrim.”
Eddie Brennan’s Laois side are expected to be a much tougher nut for Antrim to crack as they travel to O’Moore Park on Saturday afternoon for their second Championship clash in seven days.
Laois edged out Offaly 4-22 to 3-21 in a thrilling encounter last weekend with Mark Kavanagh and Charlie Dwyer sharing 1-14 of the O’Moore men’s tally.
“You look at Laois, Carlow, Offaly and it could be a point or two either way,” McCambridge added.
“We just have to focus and not get complacent after the Kerry result.”
Remaining Joe McDonagh Cup fixtures: Saturday May 18: Laois v Antrim (Portlaoise, 3pm), Westmeath v Offaly (Mullingar, 3pm); Saturday May 25: Westmeath v Kerry (Mullingar, 3pm); Saturday June 1: Offaly v Antrim (Tullamore, 3pm); Saturday June 8: Kerry v Laois (Tralee, 3pm); Antrim v Westmeath (Dunloy, 3pm); Kerry v Offaly (Tralee, 3pm), Laois v Westmeath (Portlaoise, 3pm).