Antrim hurling minor boss Paul Donnelly delighted with progress
IT had been a strange few weeks for Antrim's minor hurlers, but manager Paul Donnelly says he is extremely proud of how his team rounded off their campaign with the Leinster Minor B title at Corrigan Park on Wednesday.
Just over three weeks ago, the young Saffrons finished strong to repel Down in the Leinster 'A' preliminary round and were looking forward to a meeting with Meath in Navan.
However, a couple of Covid cases resulted in Donnelly and his management team to withdraw from that clash and as a result, found themselves in the race for the Peadar Ó Liathain Cup.
While there was disappointment that they didn't get to push on in the top competition, Antrim proved their resilience with a victory over Carlow and then found the answers to repeat their earlier victory over Down in a typical Ulster derby between the pair to round off their year with silverware.
"We are living in a pandemic and two of our players contracted Covid, so we felt it was important to protect the players, protect the families and our communities, so we decided it would be best not to continue with the fixture against Meath," Donnelly reflected.
"That's behind us now. We have won the Peadar Ó Liathain and are over the moon with this achievement.
"Big credit has to go to the backroom team: Paudie Shivers, Arron Graffin, Kieran Killyleagh and Eamon McGarrigle. The support we got from the County Board and Neal Peden, Director of Hurling, but also the parents, schoolteachers and club coaches who worked with us from the 11th of February when we first met them (players). There are a lot of people to thank, but this is about the boys as it's their day."
Wednesday's encounter wasn't dissimilar to the first meeting between the teams in many ways with Antrim finding the answers in the final quarter to settle the argument as Down threatened.
Both teams emptied their bench on a sweltering evening, but it was the Saffrons who had the greater goalscoring threat with Jack McCloskey netting after being introduced at the break and the Loughgiel man's 1-1 would prove decisive in the end.
"Last time (against Down) I said how proud of the lads I was and how they responded over the past 22 or 23 weeks, and it's the same tonight," said Donnelly.
"The set of 40 players between both sides did the business and I'm sure the spectators loved the game, but as I said, I'm really proud of the lads and they deserved to finish the year on a positive, so I'm happy with that.
"It was level at half-time, so what we tried to do was to work on our strengths and it came through.
"I'm very happy with the performance of the lads and like the last game, the substitutes who came on did the business."
Donnelly, the former Gaelfast supremo, knows the value of developing talent in the county and he is hopeful this group of players who he has worked with for several years will move on in their clubs and hopefully represent the county at senior level in the future.
"Player development is what it's all about, but it's not just being good players, but good people, and we've been trying to do that with them since U14," he stressed.
"We wish them all the best in the future as next year they will be playing senior hurling with their clubs and hopefully they will be playing U20 for the county and senior in a few years' time, but it's all about a journey."