Antrim hurlers can recover ahead of Leinster SHC round-robin series: Conor McCann

Conor McCann
Antrim's Conor McCann tries to evade Westmeath's Kevin Regan during Saturday's clash at Cusack Park Picture: Seamus Loughran (seamus loughran)

CONOR McCann insists the Antrim hurlers are on the right path and that they are capable of recovering in time to make a decent fist of the Leinster SHC round robin series that gets underway in 40 days’ time.

The Saffrons have found the going tough in Division 1B having lost all four games to date and face the ominous prospect of hosting Tipperary in Corrigan Park on Sunday.

Contained in those four losses are 27-point and 25-point beatings to top-ranked counties Limerick and Galway while they slumped to defeat in Westmeath last weekend.

The one that got away was undoubtedly their one-point defeat to Dublin at Corrigan Park in mid-February.

Indeed, it was a miserable weekend for Antrim. Accompanying that six-point defeat in Mullingar was the U20s loss to Derry in the Ulster final.

However, one of the bright bits of news for Antrim was McCann playing his first full competitive match since returning from a cruciate ligament injury sustained in August 2022.

He came on as a 45th minute substitute against Galway the previous week, hitting two points, and did the same in the Westmeath defeat.

“I suppose I’ve had the luxury of being involved in these Division One campaigns for a few years now,” said McCann.

“Are we any further forward or any further back in the last six or seven years? I’m not sure we are. We’re still fighting for two to four points every League campaign, realistically. And with the panel depleted a bit, I don’t think we’re any further back or forward.”

Through one reason or another the Antrim squad has been ravaged by absenteeism this season that is headed by Neil McManus’s retirement.

Dunloy quartet Ryan Elliott, Seaan Elliott, Nigel Elliott and Keelan Molloy are taking a break from the county set-up; Caolan and Daniel McKernan, Gerard Walsh, Ciaran Clarke, James McNaughton, Paul Boyle, Michael Bradley and Seamus McAuley are among those hoping to get back to full fitness ahead of their Leinster opener against Kilkenny on April 21.

“The bigger picture is Antrim are going through a transitional period in terms of getting our underage squads going and feeding into our senior squad,” McCann explained.

“Our U20s are building a bit better in recent years, even though they lost to Derry [in the Ulster final]. You take a lot of players that are in and out and it probably affects the flow of the team, different players have different styles.

“But the management team and the group have good resolve. There’s a lot of change going on. If we keep doing what we’re doing, and there are also a lot of debuts being given out most weeks and you can’t overlook that, I still feel we’re on the right path.”

The Creggan Kickhams clubman added: “We’re playing tough opposition – we’ve played Limerick, Galway and Tipperary next Sunday – they’re in the top four or five teams in the country.

“But there is an opportunity for us in the Championship to grow, if we give ourselves enough space, progress and come the Leinster Championship we’ll be able to compete against three or four of these teams.

“We mightn’t be getting the results, and the ball might be falling a bit differently, but we’re working hard behind the scenes.”

Travelling for a Division One game with just 21 players last weekend – five short of the match-day quota – sums up how miserable a campaign it’s been for Antrim.

The U20 Ulster final fixture clash didn’t help manager Darren Gleeson, but the Tipp man didn’t look for excuses after going down to Westmeath.

“I can’t say going down with 21 players had any demoralising impact on us,” McCann said.

“We’ve a long injury list, everybody knows that and we’ve a lot of lads to come back in but that group of 21 was evenly spread throughout all the clubs and your stronger players are still playing and are fit.

“Every time we go out, we expect to win or at least put in a performance. There are great players on our squad and the 21 players that came down to Mullingar are great players. But it’s just disappointing. There’s more in that group.

“In fairness, Westmeath hurled well in the second half, conditions suited them and we just didn’t get up to the speed of it in that period.”