CIARAN Johnston believes Kerry's ascent to top flight hurling should act as an inspiration to Antrim ahead of tomorrow’s Christy Ring clash with Roscommon.
The Saffrons missed out on making a quick return to Division 1B this season but they still have their eyes fixed on silverware this summer.
“The players are keen to progress as far as we can,” said Johnston.
“You only have to look at Kerry last year. They gained promotion and won the Christy Ring and look at where they are now. They held their own in Division 1B.
“It would be nice to win a bit of silverware. The Christy Ring is not to be looked down upon when you think of how Kerry used it as a template last year. There’s every chance Kerry will top the Leinster round robin.
“I would like to pick up a bit of All-Ireland silverware and win the Ulster Championship this season.”
Now in his third season with the Antrim seniors, Johnston admits the experiences at inter-county level have been “tough” but rewarding.
“It has been extremely enjoyable. I found the games in the previous two years in Division 1B really competitive. On top of that I played with Jordanstown in the Fitzgibbon and everything that brought.
“It drives you on to play at a higher level; you want to get the best out of yourself and make the most of the career that you have because it is short.”
The 22-year-old final year Law student lamented the exit of the previous management team led by PJ O’Mullan. The Loughgiel Shamrocks man resigned for personal reasons after a disappointing NHL campaign that saw Antrim ship losses to Westmeath, Carlow and London.
“Things like that happen,” said Johnston. “I really enjoyed playing under the previous management team. I know Gavan Duffy and Paul Graham [backroom team members] and they’re good fellas.
"Things like that happen all over the country. That’s life. But it’s how you recover and hopefully last week’s victory over Kildare will help us push on.”
Under the interim management team of Dominic McKinley, Terence McNaughton, Gary O’Kane and Neal Peden, Johnston was moved from centre-back to midfield for last week’s Christy Ring opening win over the Lilywhites and is likely to be retained in the role against the Rossies alongside Cushendall's Eoghan Campbell.
“It’s been good so far. A lot of the players would be familiar with Terence [McNaughton] and ‘Woody’. I played under them at minor and even going back to the likes of Neal McAuley they’ve also played under them, so there is a familiarity there.
“And there weren’t too many accolades Gary O’Kane didn’t pick up during his playing days.”
The St John’s clubman may still be in the early throes of his senior hurling career but he’s already on his third management team in three years.
Johnston would like to see the current managerial team stay on next season, although McNaughton has already signalled that he will step away at the end of the current campaign.
“You would encourage anyone that has the best interests of Antrim hurling at heart to stay on because we’re all there for one goal; we’re trying to progress Antrim hurling and we want to leave the jersey in a better state than we found it.
“The lads that are there have a wealth of experience from their playing days and managerial careers.”
Saul McCaughan and Jackson McGreevy (work commitments), Donal Nugent, Kevin McKernan (America) and Stephen McAfee (injured) have been ruled out of contention for the rest of Antrim’s season.