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Kevin Ryan: Antrim U21s will get hammered by Wexford - The Irish News
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Kevin Ryan: Antrim U21s will get hammered by Wexford

Boss Kevin Ryan has written off Antrim's All-Ireland U21 chances this weekend

ANTRIM hurling manager Kevin Ryan has sensationally written off the county’s All-Ireland U21 semi-final chances this weekend and warned they will receive a “massive hiding” at the hands of Wexford in Thurles.

In a no-holds-barred interview, the Waterford native blamed apathy among clubs and insisted Antrim “don’t deserve” to be on the same field as their southern opponents.

Ryan, who has doubled up as senior and U21 manager, has already signalled his intentions to leave the post after three years at the helm and Saturday’s anticipated humiliation in Semple Stadium will be his final game in charge.

Ryan has been left “frustrated and annoyed” at having to cancel a series of U21 training sessions ahead of Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final.

Since Antrim’s Ulster final win over Down on July 12, the U21 squad has had one meaningful training session and one challenge game to prepare for the Wexford clash.

“Even just trying to train these U21s for an All-Ireland semi-final, it really hits home,” said Ryan.

“There is so little interest in this game, it’s unbelievable. It’s so frustrating and annoying to be honest with you.

“There are a dozen or so of those U21 lads who are really up for it, but to actually get them together for training has been difficult. Even to try and arrange a few matches – you can’t get teams in the county to play you. We played one game, against Portaferry, and that’s about it.”

Ryan added: “At this stage, I understand the way Antrim is and the way the clubs are. They’re playing knock-out Championship matches the following week and there’s absolutely nothing in it for them; they’re not interested in anything else, and that’s their prerogative.

“But it just doesn’t add up for me. You’re playing in an All-Ireland semi-final and you need to train and prepare properly for it.

“We’re in for a massive hiding this weekend. I’ve no problem in saying that. It’s so annoying that we couldn’t get the four weeks of preparation done.

"But that’s the way it is, that’s the way the structures are, that’s the way the clubs’ attitudes are.

“Fortunately enough, we’ve got a dozen or 15 who are interested in playing with Antrim U21s along with their clubs.”

Just two years ago, the Antrim U21s reached the All-Ireland decider by upsetting Wexford in the semis – but Ryan believes there is no chance of a similar outcome this weekend.

“People are talking about two years [when we beat Wexford]... even though we started from a lower point two years ago, at least we had players available and were very prepared and if the chance came they were in a position to take it…

“My honest feeling is we don’t deserve to be in the competition,” blasted Ryan.

“When I look at Waterford, Tipperary, Clare and teams like that and what they’ve put into their U21s, and then to look at how we’re treating an All-Ireland semi-final, there is something not right about.

“If I had my way I would put a massive amount into the U21s right at the start of the year and have a serious go at it, make the fixtures around it. But if you asked me right now to reflect on it, there is just so little interest – bar one or two people on the board, the backroom team and those dozen players – it’s a nuisance for everyone else. It just gets in the way."

Ryan expressed sympathy for those players who “want to play for Antrim and want to play in an All-Ireland U21 semi-final” but weren’t given the chance to prepare properly for the game.

“I feel so sorry for those Cushendall lads and a few others I could name. They are so up for this, and they know what they’re facing but they’re still so willing to do what it takes. They’re putting their reputations on the line.

“We’ve had very few training sessions. We’ve had to call off a few. What we wanted to do is train on a Monday and play a game on a Thursday for four weeks since the Ulster final. That’s not been possible. We’ve had one training session worth talking about.”

Ryan has endured a miserable final season in charge of Antrim’s hurlers. They suffered the ignominy of being relegated to Division Two by modest Kerry before their Leinster Championship prospects were derailed by Westmeath and Carlow.

Soon after edging Down by a point in last month’s Ulster final, Ryan couldn’t be persuaded to remain for a fourth year and promptly declared his intentions to leave Antrim.

On August 3, Ryan released a statement, saying that he believed the timing was right to resign and that by "announcing my intention now allows Antrim to find a suitable successor with ample time to prepare for 2016.”

Loughgiel Shamrocks manager PJ O’Mullan has expressed an interest in the Antrim job, while Down boss Mickey Johnston has ruled himself out of contention.




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