We needed Dunloy boys back quickly: Antrim hurling assistant boss Gary O'Kane
ANTRIM hurling assistant manager Gary O’Kane insists they had little option but to recall the Dunloy players earlier than they would have liked for last weekend’s NHL opener with Kilkenny.
Cuchullain’s contingent Ryan Elliott, Ryan McGarry, Seann Elliott, Keelan Molloy, Conal Cunning and Phelim Duffin were back in action a fortnight after losing an All-Ireland final to Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Darragh Corcoran was the only Ballyhale player to travel with Kilkenny to Corrigan Park last weekend as the likes of TJ Reid, Eoin Cody and Evan Shefflin were given a longer break before returning to the inter-county set-up.
But O’Kane said Antrim simply don’t have that same luxury.
Naturally, some of the Dunloy men were below par against the Cats – but O’Kane feels they’ll be better for the experience ahead of Sunday’s second Division 1B game against Dublin, under new manager Michael Donoghue.
“You’re coming from such a high of an All-Ireland Club final and the defeat that followed, and then you’re back in with the county,” said O’Kane, also a Dunloy clubman.
“We don’t have the luxury of those boys taking a few weeks off. We brought a lot of U20s from last year into the panel but they’re only learning their trade.
“We’re missing Clarkey [Ciaran Clarke], we’re missing big Domhnall [Nugent], we’re missing Conor McCann. Maybe if those boys were available we could've afford to give the Dunloy lads another week off.
“But that’s just the way it is, it’s the nature of the beast. We need our best players with us the whole time. It’s not an ideal situation.
“When do you break them in? Maybe last week was the best thing for them, getting back on the horse and going again. Hopefully they can get back to normal now and just go out and hurl.”
It is expected Nigel Elliott will also be in contention for Antrim’s trip to Parnell Park this weekend.
O’Kane said too many bad decisions in possession last Saturday cost Antrim dearly as they went down to last year’s All-Ireland finalists by six points.
“The disappointment on people’s faces in the changing room afterwards was there for all to see,” said the former defender.
“It was definitely one that got away. I thought our retention of the ball was poor and we’ve been trying to cut out those cross-field balls because there’s too much traffic down the middle third but we made too many mistakes.”
That said, O’Kane feels Antrim hurling is in the best shape it’s been in for a long time and while manager Darren Gleeson has raised standards over the last three seasons, he feels there is more in the current crop of players to get the results they need to stay in Division 1B without depending on the play-off route like last term.
“Darren has brought things to a new level, preparation-wise. Results and where we’re at over the past few years speaks for itself – his professionalism, his man-management, he has everything down to a tee, and I think the boys have responded brilliantly to him. There’s a hell of a lot of respect there and you couldn’t ask for any more than what the man’s done.
“But it’s not all down to Darren Gleeson – the players have to step up too to close the gap. It doesn’t matter if you’re Brian Cody on the sideline, the players are the ones out there, day after day. They have to push on. Those stories of us playing well and losing don’t cut it anymore.
“I think that this group of hurlers is the best we’ve had in a long, long time. Anybody that should be there is there. We’ve the best players from every club and that’s something that Antrim could never get until a few years ago.”
While critical of last Saturday’s overall display, O’Kane has nothing but respect and admiration for the amount of effort the squad put into making Antrim better.
“These boys are out five times a week. They’re doing their gym work collectively on a Monday and a Wednesday and when they’re not in the gym, they’re out on the pitch or doing a wall ball session. It’s as good as you can get.
“If you come in and do it half-heartedly, you’ll not last three weeks. The commitment and effort the players put in are phenomenal. In my day you trained two nights a week, maybe on a Saturday and a game on Sunday.
“We’ve a man in doing our video analysis, Justin McCormick, and the amount of quality he’s producing after matches is unbelievable. The players can contact him and ask for five clips of themselves to see what they did well and what they did wrong. It’s at a whole new level.”
Antrim face a new-look Dublin side, who drew with Waterford in their League opener, and have been the team the Saffrons struggled most with in both League and Championship in recent seasons.
“Dublin are a team full of big, physical, athletic men,” O’Kane said. “They’ve a bit of a hoodoo over us but hopefully we can improve on last week’s performance.”