We hurled like a Division One team: McNaughton
WITH a step-up in terms of the National League already assured for 2018, Terence McNaughton felt yesterday's performance was the first time all year Antrim have properly displayed their Division 1B credentials.
Victory over Carlow in the recent Division 2A final secured promotion and with a trip to the banks of the Barrow River ahead of them this weekend, the Ulster decider was ultimately a stress-free distraction.
A 22-point win over Armagh was one devoid of the shooting woes that have troubled them and times, with the Saffrons feasting on the space left to their deadly full-forward line.
Conor Johnston (3-5), Neil McManus (1-6) and Ciaran Clarke (0-2 and two goal assists) wreaked absolute havoc in what McNaughton felt was their best display of the year so far.
“In the League, we were inconsistent within games, never mind game from game. We'd have a good half and then we'd disappear again. When we came in, it takes time for a team to grow and mature.
“We probably hurled for the first time like a Division One team today, the confidence was there and the shackles were off. They just seemed to hurl what they were capable of.
“The two corner forwards were on song today. Armagh found them seriously hard to handle and we supplied them rightly. We were happy with our performance today.
“We weren't happy leaving Armagh the last time because boys farted about and stuttered and stammered, but they went at that professionally.”
Traditionally Antrim's eggs might have been in the Christy Ring basket but in that League promotion, their main aim was already achieved weeks ago.
Despite the fact that yesterday was the 16th straight year that they've won the Liam Harvey Cup, it's long been bottom on the list of priorities.
But even though winning the Christy Ring this year would offer a gateway to the All-Ireland qualifiers proper, it is bonus territory nonetheless.
“Without a doubt, getting promotion was our number one goal. We had to try and get to the highest level we can play at, and try to encourage everyone to play for Antrim.
“It's nice when you have maybe Galway coming to town, and Limerick and Dublin, next year. It helps hurling in Antrim when those teams are coming.
“Although we're maybe out of our depth at the minute with them, those are the games as a hurler you'd want to be play in.”
For Armagh boss Sylvester McConnell, the challenge now is to get his players up and going again for their Nicky Rackard Cup opener in Donegal next weekend.
The margin of defeat was one thing but the manner of the performance was the biggest disappointment as they failed to make any real impression against a slick Antrim side.
“It's an Ulster final, we're not taking anything from the challenge that's coming next week. Donegal didn't play Down today, they took a training weekend.
“The questions will be asked after we play Donegal and Antrim play Carlow whether the 6-day turnaround is a good thing or a bad thing.
“Where we're standing now, we have to lift ourselves. Antrim have used this game as a stepping stone for the Carlow game.
“For us with the injuries, it's a different situation. We'll be back for the Donegal game. We'll not let that defeat hurt us, we know how important the Nicky Rackard is to us this year and we'll be focussing very much on it.”