Hurling & Camogie

Antrim hurlers showing what it means to wear the saffron jersey: Darren Gleeson

Antrim manager Darren Gleeson Picture: Seamus Loughran
Antrim manager Darren Gleeson Picture: Seamus Loughran

DARREN Gleeson believes the Antrim hurlers are finally able to express themselves and “show emotion” while playing for their county – something that wasn’t always apparent in the past.

Antrim drew their opening Leinster SHC game against Dublin last weekend and they hope to build on their encouraging start away to Wexford on Saturday.

Those outward displays of emotion during an absorbing encounter at Corrigan Park were warmly welcomed by Gleeson, now in his fourth season in charge of the Ulstermen.

“I thought they showed what it meant to them, the emotive side of the game,” said Gleeson, who has a number of injury concerns ahead of their trip to Wexford Park.

“Sometimes they pull on the Antrim jersey and they can’t really show that emotion, they’re not expected to show that it means something to them, but for this group Antrim, it means a lot to them.

“The clubs rear them and nurture them and they give everything for their club, but when they come into Antrim you can see the emotive side to it and they want to push Antrim on.”

Dublin have had Antrim’s number for the last number of seasons – but last weekend’s drawn tie suggests there are signs that they are finally closing the gap on the more established counties in Division One.

Physically, Gleeson feels they were a match for the Dubs.

“We’ve closed that gap,” said the Tipperary man.

“Dublin were always able to out-muscle us. But the guys have filled out. And there are some of our – what would you call them – flair players: James, Keelan, Coby and Seaan Elliott who were tackling ferociously. Seaan was excellent in the middle of the field.

“He’s got the pedals and he was on the massive man in Chris O’Leary – the lad they transferred in from Cork. He really got stuck into him which was great.”

Despite Antrim’s gutsy display, they face stiff tests of their credentials against Wexford, Kilkenny and Galway before rounding off their Leinster SHC campaign away to Westmeath at the end of next month.

“Sure isn’t an ideal situation for us going down to Wexford Park?” Gleeson added.

“No-one’s expecting us to get anything down there. No-one’s expecting us to get anything against Kilkenny or Galway, so we can go and be ourselves and hurl with a bit of freedom; it’s a great way to play hurling and you never know what happens on days like that.”

Niall McKenna missed last weekend’s drawn game and is expected to miss a couple more Championship games with a hamstring injury and is now joined on the sideline by Nigel Elliott (foot) who hobbled off in the first half last Saturday. Michael Bradley also suffered a knee injury and is a doubt for the Wexford game.

Darragh Egan’s Wexford side bagged two goals in the opening exchanges of their Leinster opener against Galway in Pearse Stadium but still fell to six-point loss.

One of the high points of Gleeson’s four-year tenure was their highly-charged Division 1B drawn game with Wexford in Corrigan Park two seasons ago.

“It’ll be much the same personnel with Wexford, but they’re transitioning a bit under Darragh,” noted the Antrim boss.

“He’s one of my close friends, I’d speak to him regularly, but I’d say there’ll be some radio silence this week!”