Hurling and camogie

Antrim will bounce back back from Dublin disappointment: Neil McManus

Neil McManus has seen much darker days through his Antrim career than Saturday's defeat to Dublin, and has backed the Saffrons to respond in the right way against Laois on July 10. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

HEADS hung low as the Antrim players made their way out of the changing rooms at the back of Navan’s creaking Pairc Tailteann and onto the team bus, the long journey back home sure to have been quieter one than usual after Saturday’s 18-point demolition by Dublin.

For so many of them it was a first taste of Liam MacCarthy Cup level hurling, the Saffrons having last competed in the Leinster Championship back in 2015 – their last knockout game a 13-point defeat to Wexford the previous year.

Neil McManus was one of just four survivors from the starting side that day, and the Cushendall man has seen so much across a long and distinguished career in the Saffron jersey that he is better placed than most to offer some perspective when the darker days come around.

Now 33, and having made his debut way back in 2007, he has seen Antrim in much worse spots than that which they currently reside. Indeed, after a National League campaign when Division One status was secured against the odds, the mood within the county has seldom been more buoyant.

Saturday was a tough one but, in the grand scheme of things, McManus is convinced it will prove little more than a bump on the road.

“That wasn’t the performance we were looking for obviously. It just never got started to be honest, and it’s frustrating,” he said.

“But at the same time one swallow doesn’t make a summer and we’ll go again because we know we’re a lot better than what we put on show there.

“Dublin are a good side. We gave them a lot of respect because we knew that. People were just thinking that, off the back of the League campaign, this was a 50-50 game – Dublin beat Galway in the Championship a couple of years ago and Galway are everybody’s favourites for the All-Ireland at the minute.

“We knew it was going to be a massive task but we can be a hell of a lot better than we were there today, and we will be in the future as well.

“It’s still a hugely enjoyable experience any time you get out to play Leinster Championship. That’s the long and short of it. But it’s hard to enjoy a day where you come down with such high hopes and nothing seems to go as planned.

“At the same time, we have an exceptional group of young players there. There are certainly better days ahead, and hopefully not that much further into the future.”

The Saffrons have the opportunity to bounce straight back when they take on Laois in an All-Ireland preliminary round qualifier on July 10.

Indeed, the response to their last setback – a League defeat to Dublin last month – was to snatch a survival-sealing draw with Wexford before dispatching the already-relegated O’Moore men at Corrigan Park a week later.

And McManus has no doubts about Antrim’s ability to park Saturday’s disappointment and ensure they are ready by the time they face Laois again.

“For a lot of those guys it’s a first taste of it [Liam MacCarthy Cup], and it’s a shock to the system probably. But we’ll put that down as a learning experience and move on because we’ll have another opportunity here.

“You’d be very down straight after a game but once you have the chance to think ‘right, today wasn’t a true reflection on ourselves’, your mind very quickly turns to setting the record straight. We’re just very lucky we’re going to get the opportunity to do that.

“In football when you’re knocked out you’re gone, and we’re getting another go at it.”

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Hurling and camogie