Club and county schedules struck the right balance: Antrim hurling boss Darren Gleeson
ANTRIM senior hurling manager Darren Gleeson says the county board struck the right balance between the club championship and inter-county schedules as the Tipperary man casts his net wide ahead of next month’s Division One promotion play-off with Kerry.
After a quite memorable senior hurling championship that ended in Dunloy retaining their title, Gleeson was only getting his full squad together for the first time earlier this week since they broke up back in March.
Creggan Kickhams dual player and county captain Conor McCann is the last man to hook up with the senior hurlers following last Sunday’s devastating SFC final defeat to Cargin in Portglenone.
Gleeson felt the preparation time afforded to both the clubs and the county teams has been just about right.
“When you get into preparation time, full contact training resumed for clubs on the 29th of June and they played their first round of the championship on August 9, so that’s 40 days’ preparation for the first round of the championship,” Gleeson said.
“After we get our full squad back [on September 22] we’ll be 25 days away from playing our first game.
“I think it’s been balanced out well in Antrim.”
He added: “We’re delighted to get back together. The uncertainty up until the end of May was difficult. It was very difficult for club and county managers. For a while we didn’t know if we were going to get a championship – it looks now we are going to get a championship. And to maybe have some people at the games will be fantastic. When you meet people and there are no matches on sure there’s not a lot to talk about.
“We have the possibility of five or six really tough games [in Joe McDonagh Cup] for Antrim over October and November.”
Gleeson and his backroom team attended a host of championship matches at all levels in Antrim over the last two months and with the resurgence of the likes of O’Donovan Rossa and Ballycastle, the Tipp man probably has a deeper choice of selection than he did back in March.
“We will make changes to the panel that we’re carrying,” confirmed the manager.
“That’s natural. Guys go in and out of form and there are other players who have impressed us during the championship. There are guys that we maybe looked at last November and thought: ‘Are they a year or two too young?’
“But now they could be just right so they could come in and make an impression.”
Gerard Walsh and Aodhan O’Brien were the Rossa representatives on the panel with a few more capable of stepping up to the county panel.
“We have to look at clubs like Rossa to see if anyone else can come in and add something for a position that we need,” said Gleeson, who is assisted by Rossa clubman Jim Close.
“There are some good discussions going on. Rossa, I suppose, were the talk of the championship. They played really interesting stuff and I admired the way they set up tactically. They have some really good players.
“I was really impressed with the two boys we already have – Gerard and Aodhan. A lot of people didn’t know much about Aodhan before the first Dunloy match [in the championship group stages]. It shows what’s out there, even though he started for us against Offaly earlier in the year, so there are good prospects out there.”
Unsurprisingly, Gleeson’s panel is littered with players from champions Dunloy including Ryan Elliott, Ryan McGarry, Keelan Molloy, Conal Cunning, Nicky McKeague, Phelim Duffin, Ronan Molloy and Eoin O’Neill with some of that contingent delaying their return to the county set-up due to the footballers reaching the Intermediate football final.
Conor and Ciaran Johnston, Michael Bradley and Domhnall Nugent are regular fixtures from St John’s, with the latter expected to be fully fit for Antrim’s play-off showdown with Kerry on October 17 after suffering ligament damage in the Johnnies’ epic semi-final loss to Loughgiel Shamrocks.
“We watched a lot of matches, all the management team. Because of all the timing and the regulations of the games we tried to spread ourselves around so we got to see the three grades – senior, intermediate and junior championship – because we wanted to cast the net as far as we can to see what’s out there.
“I was impressed with all grades of the championship, to be honest. There was a really good intermediate final [Tir na nOg and Clooney Gaels] which kind of got lost in the senior final weekend which is a big occasion. There were some really good matches throughout the championship, even going back to the Creggan and Sarsfields game.”
Antrim’s last team (v Offaly) on March 8 (Tullamore): R Elliott; P Duffin, M Donnelly, S Rooney; G Walsh, Ciaran Johnston, A O’Brien; K Molloy, R Molloy; J McNaughton, N McManus (1-13 10f 1’65), N McKenna; D Nugent, C McCann (1-00); Conor Johnston (0-1) Subs: C Cunning for A O’Brien (blood sub 40); D Kearney for R Molloy (55); C Boyd for G Walsh (57); E O’Neill for J McNaughton (67); A Delargy for Conor Johnston (67)