Antrim hurlers looking more like themselves again after raft of returns

Experienced Dunloy quartet boost Antrim’s Championship hopes

Keelan Molloy (right) and Ryan Elliott embrace after winning the Joe McDonagh Cup in 2020. Both men have opted out of Antrim duty for next year, alongside clubmates Seaan Elliott and Eoin O'Neill as well as St Enda's defender Joe Maskey. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Keelan Molloy (right) and Ryan Elliott embrace after winning the Joe McDonagh Cup in 2020. Both men are back with Antrim after a break Picture by Seamus Loughran

AFTER a bleak few months, pockmarked by absenteeism and heavy defeats, the Antrim senior hurlers are beginning to look more like themselves again following the return of some of the county’s best players and a host of other key men on their way back from injury.

Yesterday, The Irish News revealed that Dunloy quartet Keelan Molloy, Nigel Elliott, Seaan Elliott and Ryan Elliott had agreed to return to the fold after taking a break from the inter-county scene and are joined by Cuchullain’s club-mates Daire McMullan and Aodhan McGarry.

In a statement released on behalf of manager Darren Gleeson, he also confirmed that Conal Bohill, James McNaughton and Michael Bradley – established starters for Antrim – were back in full training after long injury lay-offs.

The Tipp man added: “Ciaran Clarke, Gerard Walsh, Daniel McKernan, Seamus McAuley, Caolan McKernan and Stephen Rooney are all recovering from recent procedures and are in line for returns for Championship hurling.”

Paul Boyle, one of Loughgiel’s best players over the past couple of seasons, was expected to make a “quick return” after undergoing a procedure yesterday.

Ciaran Clarke featured highly for Antrim in five Joe McDonagh Cup games last year. Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Ciaran Clarke is close to an eagerly-awaited return Picture: Seamus Loughran.

Sean McKay of Cushendun, who was rugby-tied with Ballymena Academy and is believed to be highly-rated by Gleeson, comes into the panel along with Niall McGarel (Glenarm), Cormac McKeown (Glenravel) and Ruairi McCormick (Loughgiel).

Conal Cunning and Rian McMullan are also fit again after missing the last NHL game against Tipperary.

Dubhaltach Wilson (ankle) and Joseph McLaughlin (U20s and school-tied) have also returned to training.

All will be aboard the plane bound for Portugal in early April for a week of warm weather training and should be in the shake-up for Antrim’s first Leinster SHC tie against Kilkenny on April 21.

The big talking point emanating from Gleeson’s press statement was obviously the return of Dunloy’s Keelan Molloy, Nigel Elliott, Seaan Elliott and Ryan Elliott.

Without them, and indeed the other established players who were injured, Antrim struggled to be competitive in this season’s NHL Division 1B.

Dunloy have been enjoying one of the most successful periods in their history, winning four county championships in a row (2019 to 2022) and reaching an All-Ireland final at the beginning of 2023.

Last season Molloy, Nigel Elliott and Seaan Elliott were also involved in the club’s historic run to the senior county football final - and with little or no break between the club and county seasons, they decided to take a break from county hurling this year to recharge.

Their respective returns are likely to have a reinvigorating impact on the squad.

Ciaran Clarke’s imminent return to action after a complex knee injury sustained during the 2022 county championship is a huge boost.

Regarded as one of the best attackers in Antrim, the Ballycastle man’s return will be celebrated by everyone in the county.

With the senior panel fundraising hard to cover the costs of their week in Portugal to prepare for the Leinster SHC round robin series, Gleeson heaped praise on his players and the various stakeholders in making the trip a reality.

“The team travel in early April for a warm weather training camp to Portugal with support from Antrim County Board.

“The senior panel have always fundraised for such trips and would like to thank all sponsors and contributors both this season and over previous years for their continued support.”

The hurling panel’s annual Golf Classic will take place on Friday April 5 at the DoubleTree, Belfast Templepatrick on the Kingfisher Country Estate.

A team of four players (four ball) can enter the classic for £250, which will cover food on arrival, the round of golf, entry to win great prizes, and a fork buffet afterwards in the clubhouse restaurant.

“The senior hurlers value the support of the hurling people of Antrim and would be delighted to have you or your business on board as a sponsor of the event.”

For a donation of £100, the name or business logo will be showcased on the first hole as players begin to play and get photos throughout the entire day.

Cash donations are acceptable, and cheques can be made payable to Antrim GAA.

Space is limited, call Stephen on 07710459829 or email now to book.

Antrim golf classic
Antrim senior manager Darren Gleeson was joined by players Eoin McFerran, Conor McCann and Niall O'Connor alongside resident golf PRO and Director of Golf Eamonn Logue of Kingfisher Country Estate last Thursday. This marked the launch of the teams Golf Classic on Friday April 5. Picture: John McIlwaine