Antrim should be inspired by Laois's journey: Eoghan Campbell
EOGHAN Campbell wants the Antrim hurlers to be inspired by the rise of Laois as the Saffrons aim to gain promotion out of Division 2A this season.
Campbell, who was one of Antrim’s star performers in Sunday’s comprehensive NHL win over Mayo, hopes to embark on the same road as Eddie Brennan’s Laois side.
After claiming the Joe McDonagh Cup last summer the O’Moore County went on to upset the odds in the All-Ireland series by beating Dublin and gave a fine account of themselves in the All-Ireland quarter-finals against eventual Liam McCarthy champions Tipperary, racking up 1-18 at Croke Park.
Antrim were relegated to Division 2A two seasons ago but Campbell is hopeful new manager Darren Gleeson can return them to hurling’s top table this spring.
The former Tipperary goalkeeper was part of Antrim’s backroom team over the last two seasons but once Neal Peden accepted a Director of Hurling post in the county, Gleeson assumed the hot seat.
With two League wins on the board - albeit against the two weaker counties in Division 2A (Wicklow and Mayo) - Campbell has been impressed with the new regime.
“It’s been a big step up,” said the Cushendall man.
“I suppose we’ve been trying to improve ourselves over the last few years. When Darren came in it went up an extra level. He expects everything that a county team is meant to be.
“We’re out three or four nights a week but boys are enjoying it, nobody’s gurning about it.
“We’re training hard and we’re not taking anybody for granted. We’re at this level for a reason.”
In 2018, Antrim surrendered their Division 1B place to Laois and after a transitional year under Peden in 2019, the squad appears ripe for another crack at promotion.
But the road gets significantly steeper now with trips to Offaly and Kerry to come with a home tie with Meath sandwiched in between.
“Ultimately we want to be at the top level and you have to start here, you have to win these games [against Wicklow and Mayo],” Campbell added.
“We’ll not get to the final unless we win these games. We’ll be aiming for the Offalys and Kerrys in this group. They are big games away from home and hopefully we can get to a League final, which is where we want to be.
“You look at Laois and where they’ve come from and the strides they’ve made. That’s really what we’re aiming for – to get back up to the top level and maintaining that. But we have to start here.”
Campbell grabbed four points from play in Sunday’s 24-point mauling of Mayo while Niall McKenna, Alex Delargy, Dan McCloskey, Conor McHugh, Gerard Walsh and Conor Boyd staked a claim for starting jerseys against Offaly in Tullamore on February 16.
And with Keelan Molly, ‘Koby’ Cunning, Ciaran Clarke, Ciaran Johnston and Conor Johnston still to come into the reckoning there is no shortage of competition for places.
“There have been a lot of boys I’ve been impressed by. Young Conor McHugh is from a junior club [Cushendun]. He was attacking every ball against Mayo. Gerard Walsh was on the fringes last year but he’s come in and is solidifying his place. Ryan McGarry came on against Mayo and playing centre-back was no problem to him.
“Dan McCloskey might have been on the edges last year but he’s come in and made a mark. There is good competition for places and as you saw there were three changes from last week [Wicklow game]. There’s a real drive in the camp.”
Kerry sent out a signal of their intentions with back-to-back wins over Mayo and Offaly, so there’s a lot riding on the outcome of Antrim’s trip to Offaly in 12 days’ time, especially with the League final set for March 7.
“The matches only get harder now,” said Campbell.
“We’ve four points in the bag and we’ve a challenge game against Tipperary next week [Davitt Park] and we’ll approach that like a League game. Our last three League games are massive but we’re looking forward to them.”