We need to be more consistent to make gains next season: Antrim hurler Paddy Burke

‘There is no excuse for me not doing my job because everything is on a plate for me under Darren Gleeson’

Antrim's James McNaughton gets away from Carlow's Tony Lawlor and Niall Bolger at Corrigan Park. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Antrim's James McNaughton gets away from Carlow's Tony Lawlor and Niall Bolger at Corrigan Park. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

RELIEF. Frustration. Hope. Paddy Burke had mixed emotions after the Antrim hurlers secured their Leinster Senior Hurling Championship status on Sunday by beating Carlow at Corrigan Park and nudging their rivals into the Joe McDonagh tier.

The Saffrons claimed two wins out of five in the Leinster series this season – the other victory coming against Wexford – but Burke feels they didn’t quite do themselves justice this season.

“It’s a feeling of relief, to be fair,” said Burke after easing to a six-point win over Carlow.

“We’ve been very inconsistent all year. We only showed glimpses of the standard that’s in the squad given how hard we’re training.

“It’s a bit frustrating that we didn’t progress a bit further in the Championship this year but it’s just relief that we’ve stayed in it, and it gives us another platform to build.

“Had we been relegated, for us to come back again would have cost us two or three years – so it’s important to stay at this level.”

Antrim finished bottom of Division 1B, but remain in place for 2025 due to a rejigged format, and they finished second from bottom in the Leinster SHC round robin series.

Manager Darren Gleeson probably faced his toughest season in the role with so many injuries and some players taking a break from the inter-county scene.

For their Division 1B game against Westmeath in Mullingar back in March, the squad travelled with just 21 fit players – five short of the match-day 26.

Nevertheless, Burke maintained that they had enough quality to have performed better than they did across both competitions.

“The players that were there are at the standard that’s required,” said the Cushendall man.

“We just weren’t clicking as a team. It’s probably to do with experience at this level, it’s not hurling ability.

“We wouldn’t carry people who aren’t at the level. It’s just frustrating we weren’t clicking as a team for all the work we were doing.

“The panel has been really, really close over the last four or five years and it’s good to add new people into the group. They got to play loads of hurling which they normally wouldn’t have and that will help us for next year.”

Paddy Burke celebrates winning the Joe McDonagh Cup in Croke Park last summer Picture: Seamus Loughran
Paddy Burke hopes Antrim can challenge for Leinster titles in the future Picture: Seamus Loughran

While Antrim enjoyed some encouraging afternoons at Corrigan Park this year, their away form was poor – suffering heavy defeats to Kilkenny and Dublin in Leinster as well as struggling on the road in the League.

“We need to go away and ask why we’re not playing better away from home and in every single game. It’s not mad complicated – it’s just bringing consistency and bringing belief.

“The biggest thing for us was getting more belief at this level. I played a whole juvenile set-up with Antrim and got hammered by absolutely everyone we played against, and nearly everyone in our group played at that level.

“So, we’re playing against senior county teams and yet none of us competed, properly competed, at juvenile level.

“You’re basically combining teams that never competed at juvenile level and who are now competing at senior level. The hurlers are there. There’s nothing magic that needs to change for us to kick on – we just need to answer a few hard questions of ourselves and see where we can go, what percentages we can bring to be competing for Leinster titles rather than playing in relegation matches.”

He added: “Every day you go out, it’s just a complete battle, individually and collectively, and that’s where we want to be at this level.

“I’m here because I want to compete at this level and mark the best players, that’s the way I look at it and that’s the way the team looks at it.

“Some days we didn’t play well and didn’t do ourselves justice and some days we did.”

Whether Gleeson remains at the helm for a sixth consecutive season is unclear. The Tipperary man, who’s involvement with Antrim hurlers stretches to seven years, was non-committal on his managerial future following the Carlow win.

Gleeson said: “It’s a long road. It’s easy for me to say, ‘job done’, but I need to give it the right thought. I have to see what’s going on in my own life as well.”

Burke had nothing but praise for the 2010 All-Ireland winning ‘keeper and his contribution he’s made in Antrim to date.

“I’ve said it from the very start, the professionalism Darren’s brought has given us the platform to be able to show what we’re capable of doing and obviously we’ve all improved as hurlers and our fitness and our physicality with the help of Brendan Murphy and Thomas Rogan.

“That helps us massively. Before, we were probably never competing physically at this level even if we did have the hurlers. Bringing the physicality helps us to compete and with Darren bringing the professionalism to it, I mean, we want for nothing really which wasn’t the case until he came in.

“People weren’t committing properly and that’s why it was frustrating during the year because we were doing all the right things and behaving like a Division One team that was playing in the Leinster Championship.

“Darren brought those standards, so that’s the best thing that happened to us. There is no excuse for me not doing my job because everything is on a plate for me.”