Hurling and camogie

Antrim boss Gleeson hopes injured forward pair could see Championship return

Antrim players (left to right) Ryan Murray, Dermot McAleese, Neil McManus, and Conal Cunning model the new county jersey, sponsored by Fibrus. The hyperfast full fibre broadband provider has announced a five-year sponsorship deal and its co-founders Dominic Kearns (chief executive) and Conal Henry (chairperson) attended a special event at Belfast's Hilton Hotel yesterday to publicly announce it.
Neil Loughran

ANTRIM expect to be without Ciaran Clarke and Conor McCann for most of next year’s campaign – though boss Darren Gleeson hopes the key pair can play some part in Championship.

Hotshot Clarke is set for an extended spell on the sidelines after picking up a major injury during Ballycastle’s Antrim championship campaign, while former captain McCann sustained a cruciate ligament injury in action for Creggan.

Fellow forward Domhnall Nugent is recovering after undergoing an ankle operation last month, but should return during the National League, while St John’s team-mate Conor Johnston could require surgery on a hand issue.

“We have a significant injury list coming back after the club,” said Gleeson.

“Ciaran had two operations – he did cartilage and meniscus damage, and he did his cruciate as well. He’s on the mend, and has started well with his recovery.

“Conor McCann did his cruciate in August but he’s going really well, making a strong recovery. Domhnall has made a good start to his recovery, and Conor Johnston broke a hand during the season and it hasn’t really mended great, so he’s looking at maybe something small to tidy it up.

“You just have monitor them, put the best support in front of them that you can, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Asked for a timeframe on Clarke and McCann, Gleeson added: “These injuries are six or eight months anyway. We’ll see how it goes… we definitely won’t see him in the League anyway, maybe the back end of the Championship we might see the boys in action, but we won’t force it.

“Whenever they’re ready, they’re ready.”

One man who will be available to the Tipperary native, however, is stalwart Neil McManus.

The Cushendall man, who made his Antrim debut in 2007, took some time to consider his future following Antrim’s Championship exit to Cork before confirming he will be back for a 16th season.

Gleeson is delighted to be able to call on the 34-year-old again, and feels the value of players packing such experience is often overlooked.

“When you turn 30 now at inter-county, everybody’s looking at you going ‘when are you retiring?’ Look at the last few years, some of our best hurlers have been 30 plus – TJ Reid, Patrick Horgan, Seamus Callanan

“Neil is in that bracket as well, but when you’re producing the goods age is only a number. A lot of our top players, nationwide, their age has nearly been used against them to get them out of the game.

“There’s a lot to be said for that experience, that physical maturity… you can’t buy that. It takes so long to put it into players, and then we’re trying to rush them out the door.

“So it was an easy conversation with Neil. He just wanted to make sure he could give his all to it. Himself and Aileen have a new arrival in the house, there was his own work to consider, we had a conversation around it and once it all fits in, he was good to go and we were very happy to have him come back.”

Gleeson was also quick to praise the role played by Ballycastle full-back Matthew Donnelly, who has decided to step away from the inter-county scene after years soldiering in Saffron.

“There’s a line Jurgen Klopp uses, that it’s not about what people think when you join an organisation, it’s what they think when you leave. Mattie is held in the highest esteem after leaving, I couldn’t say that enough about him.

“He had a horrendous last two years with a constant back injury, then he broke his thumb last year against Dublin, blocking a lad down with no hurley… that’s what Mattie brought to it.

“He has been huge for us, and we all wish him the very best.”

Hurling and camogie