Eoghan Campbell has faith in Antrim’s young guns ahead of Galway clash

Antrim V Dublin hurling at Corrigan Park
Antrim V Dublin hurling Antrim's Eoghan Campbell (left) tries to stop Dublin's Paddy Smyth during their Corrigan Park clash PICTURE: MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

EOGHAN Campbell insists the Antrim hurlers haven’t been distracted by the high-profile absences from the squad – and says he’s only concentrating on the players who are involved this season.

And there was plenty to admire among the young Saffrons in their last NHL Division 1B outing against Dublin – losing in agonising circumstances at the death – as they prepare to welcome big hitters Galway to Corrigan Park this Sunday.

Boss Darren Gleeson has had to reach into his resources more than he perhaps expected to following the news that Dunloy quartet Keelan Molloy, Nigel Elliott, Seaan Elliott and Ryan Elliott - all automatic starters for Antrim – were taking a break from county hurling in 2024.

Gleeson has replenished his panel with a host of U20 players and a couple of returnees, notably Aodhan O’Brien of O’Donovan Rossa.

Rory McCloskey, Conor Boyd, Niall O’Connor, Rian McMullan, Fred McCurry and Joe McLaughlin came in against the Dubs and enhanced their reputations.

Campbell, Paddy Burke, Ryan McGarry, Niall McKenna and Conal Cunning provided the Antrim team-sheet against Dublin with a familiar look about it.

“There’s been a lot of talk outside the camp about who’s here and who’s not here,” Campbell said, “but the players are giving everything they have and we’re building.

“The boys that left are obviously big players for us, but they decided to step away and no-one holds it against them.

“To be honest, I don’t think it has affected us too much because you’re training that hard and focusing on the camp. It’s the way it is now. Boys will step up and fill their boots – that’s just the way life is.”

After getting walloped by four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions Limerick by 27 points down in Thurles on the opening day of the League season, a week later Antrim were arguably the better side against the Dubs but for a goalkeeping error in stoppage-time by Tiernan Smyth that denied the Ulstermen.

Antrim hurling manager Darren Gleeson Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Antrim hurling manager Darren Gleeson Picture: Seamus Loughran. Antrim hurling manager Darren Gleeson Picture: Seamus Loughran.

“We didn’t deserve to lose the Dublin game,” Campbell added. “There were times we should have been further ahead. We get to the stage in games where we’re two or three up and we let them back into it. We shouldn’t have been in the position at the end.”

The Cushendall clubman also backed young Ballycastle goalkeeper Tiernan Smyth to recover “100 per cent” from his unfortunate error ahead of Galway’s visit.

All counties competing in Division 1A and 1B this year have the cushion of no relegation as a League rejig will take place next season.

But Campbell doesn’t take the view that Antrim face a series of free hits against the country’s top opponents and wants them to battle for a top four place in Division 1B.

The top three in both Division 1A and 1B will comprise a new top division in 2025 with the two fourth-placed teams facing off to earn the right to claim the seventh spot on offer.

“The League matters to us because you want to be playing top level hurling,” Campbell said.

“That’s why you play county hurling to face the likes of Kilkenny and Limerick. Next year you want to bring Limerick up to Corrigan which would be fantastic. We obviously have one eye down the line on the Championship but we’ve still an eye on Galway coming up here.”

“I know the consequences of the League aren’t the same this year, but it doesn’t make it any less important to us.

“We are building for Championship and you can see that. Rory McCloskey is in there, Aodhan [O’Brien] is back this year and is stepping up and that’s what you need.”