Is it the end of the road for Antrim warrior Neil McManus?
Leinster Senior Hurling Championship round five
Westmeath 1-19 Antrim 4-24
SUBSTITUTED in the dying embers of yesterday’s relegation face-off with Westmeath in sunny Cusack Park, Neil McManus’s work was done here.
The Cushendall man threw his arms around Darren Gleeson and his manager wrapped his around an Antrim legend.
Both men had delivered what they'd set out to do at the beginning of 2023 – stay in the Leinster SHC series and Division One.
Was this the end of the road for one of Antrim’s true greats? The embrace between manager and player felt like it and the emotion in McManus’s voice strongly hinted at it too.
But there would be no kneejerk decisions on a beautiful day like this.
Make no mistake: this was a gargantuan achievement by the Ulstermen.
Played in splendid sunshine, the Antrim hurlers produced a majestic second-half display to see off Westmeath, now relegated to the Joe McDonagh.
Conal Cunning, Conor Johnston, Eoin O’Neill and James McNaughton each raised a green flag and helped Antrim preserve their Liam MacCarthy Cup status with 15 points to spare.
“There is nothing to stop us driving to another level,” McManus said, who wouldn’t be drawn on his Antrim future.
“The most pleasurable thing about this journey has been the development of our young players. I’ve been the lucky one to be part of it.”
With a wide smile, the 35-year-old said: “Our forwards are brilliant! If you win a ball and you throw it into a runner like Keelan [Molloy] they’re going to break the line and score.”
Eoghan Campbell insisted that his Cushendall club-mate deserved the space to make his own decision after soldiering for Antrim since the mid-Noughties.
“There’s probably been no better servant to Antrim hurling than Neil McManus,” Campbell said.
“He’s been there for 12 years or more. He was there when I came onto the panel and he deserves to make up his own mind, whatever way he wants to go.
“If he wanted to take the winter off and come back fresh I think he’d be allowed to do that. But it’s up to him. Will he go? I think he probably will but whatever he does he’s been a massive stalwart of this team.”