Offaly win set us up for Westmeath showdown: Antrim's Neil McManus
NEIL McManus says Antrim's victory over Offaly in the Joe McDonagh Cup last weekend rivals any result he's achieved with his county – but insists an arguably bigger test awaits the Saffrons in Dunloy on Saturday when Westmeath roll into town (3pm).
McManus was part of the Antrim side that defeated Dublin at Croke Park in the 2010 All-Ireland series and was a key player when they beat Carlow a couple of seasons ago to gain NHL promotion back to the top flight.
Despite playing the majority of last weekend's tie in Tullamore a man down, after full-back Martin Burke was sent off after nine minutes, Antrim were fully deserving of their two-point win that puts them within touching distance of a place in the Joe McDonagh final on June 30.
“It's hugely important for this group of players because apart from me the only other person on the panel that has played in a real knock-out Championship match was Conor McCann, which was seven years ago (against Laois),” said man-of-the-match McManus. “And he was injured for the Offaly game.
“A lot of our boys have never experienced that type of atmosphere. We knew Offaly would have a big crowd and everybody would row in behind [interim management team] Joachim [Kelly] and Brian Carroll. Their lives were on the line and we knew we were coming into a real cauldron but that win will help our boys so much.”
McManus added: “In 2010, we beat Dublin at Croke Park and beating Offaly may be a bit out of the spotlight but we're a young team and those young boys will remember this for a very, very long time.”
“The Offaly win was, psychologically, a big win for us against a traditional hurling county away from home. We were always great in Casement - we could have beaten anybody in Casement on our day.”
Westmeath, who are without attacker Niall Mitchell (broken finger) for Saturday's winner-takes-all clash, defeated Offaly in their McDonagh opener before suffering a surprise loss to Kerry.
“We want to be in that final,” said McManus.
“We're not there yet. We've a massive game in Dunloy next weekend against Westmeath. They'll be absolutely gunning for that one too.”