Hurling & Camogie

Antrim U21 hurling preparation a 'shambles' - Christy McNaughton

Antrim's Christy McNaughton says the county haven't even got a manager for their forthcoming U21 campaign
Antrim's Christy McNaughton says the county haven't even got a manager for their forthcoming U21 campaign

RISING Antrim star Christy McNaughton has slammed the county's Bord Gais Energy Ulster U-21 hurling championship preparations as 'a complete shambles'.

McNaughton, son of county legend and senior joint boss Terence, confirmed that there's still no U-21 manager in place just weeks out from their opening tie against Derry.

That game takes place on July 19 and McNaughton said the likelihood is that players will be called together 'a week or two before the game' to begin preparations.

McNaughton, an AIB All-Ireland club finalist with Cushendall in 2016, put the situation in context when he noted that Galway's U-21s have been training together since February.

"We haven't even got together year because we still have no manager, it's been a complete shambles," said McNaughton at yesterday's launch of the U-21 championship at Bord Gais Energy headquarters.

"You can't really prepare. I was really hoping this year we could have a really good go at it. There's only four or five boys on the senior panel so they're the only ones really training away.

"The Derry game is the 19th of July. There's still a bit of time if someone came in now but I was talking to one of the Galway lads and they've been training since February and they don't play until August.

"Maybe someone might turn up for the match! It's not even funny. The other boys on the senior panel are trying to talk my Da into taking it."

Ollie Bellew was in charge of the U-21s last year though McNaughton acknowledged that some of the senior management will probably be forced to step into the breach this year.

"We're going well at senior level, we're through to the Christy Ring final but then you see we can't get a manager for the U-21 hurlers and it shows how far we still are away," said McNaughton.

"There's nothing we can really do, we can just prepare ourselves individually."

McNaughton is part of the senior panel but was sidelined throughout spring with a broken foot. He reckons it's unlikely he'll be back in time to feature in the Ring Cup final against Carlow on June 10.

"I've missed the whole year so far, I haven't played yet, I've just been with the physios," he said. "We'll see how I get on. Next week is my last appointment about it so that should be it."

McNaughton reckons there's little between Antrim and Carlow though revealed the burning ambition within the panel to go one better than last year's sickening final defeat to Meath.

"Absolutely, that's what we're aiming for," he said. "Our first aim was to get out of Division 2A and to get up to Liam MacCarthy then so we've got one of those already and hopefully we can push on to get the other one.

"Carlow are a serious team, we've obviously played them a few times already this year. It's going to be a massive battle. Both teams are basically even.

"But we're going well, we've got a lot of confidence in the group. The seniors have only lost one game in the league, to Westmeath, and I think we'd already qualified for the final at that stage.

"We've got promotion to Division 1B next year in the bag and we'll be playing a hell of a lot better teams, the likes of Dublin and Galway, so they'll be really tough, hard games but that's what we need."

In the meantime, he hasn't given up hope of a decent run with the U-21s despite the management headache.

"We'd still be aiming to win Ulster but hopefully we don't get caught out," said McNaughton.