Hurling & Camogie

Darren Gleeson keen to stay put with Antrim

Darren Gleeson looking to 2024 with Antrim
Darren Gleeson looking to 2024 with Antrim

DARREN Gleeson fully expects to be at the helm in 2024 after the Antrim hurlers retained their Leinster SHC status with a brilliant victory over Westmeath in Mullingar on Sunday.

The Tipperary native has performed brilliantly in the role over the last four seasons – maintaining Antrim’s place in NHL Division 1B for a fourth consecutive year and now the county will enjoy back-to-back seasons in the Leinster round robin series after saving themselves from the drop.

Had Antrim been relegated out of the Liam MacCarthy, and not Westmeath, it’s conceivable Gleeson would have called time on his tenure with the Ulstermen – and he also revealed he’d considered 2023 being his last year in charge after their morale-sapping defeat to Wexford only a few weeks ago.

Asked about staying on for a fifth season, he said: “That’s the plan. There are four or five months of a void now and you’ll reflect.

“I have to see how we can improve Antrim. I came out of the Wexford game and was genuinely thinking: can we bring them any further as a collective because I felt it was a game we should have been getting over the line in. We had chances and we just didn’t go for it.

“So, you have to honestly reflect. It’s easier to reflect on a sunny day when you get a win. We have to sit down and see how we really push Antrim forward and how us as a set-up goes forward. But the intention is and always has been to give another two or three years. That was at the start of last year and see where it takes us. I’d be optimistic on that front.”

Progress is being made at U17 and U20 level, with the county’s U17 development side winning the Celtic Challenge last weekend.

“It was great to see the Celtic Challenge team winning under ‘Woody’ [Dominic McKinley] and the lads. We need to expose them to Leinster hurling continuously and that takes a huge amount of investment to get those teams down the road regularly to play those games. And the senior team will keep plugging on, but we need to get resources, people and support in behind the 17s and 20s because it’s massive for the county.

“We can’t just flatline with one senior team. That’s what a lot of counties did, just focusing on that team and forgetting about what’s coming. You can see Offaly is a rising tide with the juvenile work they’ve put in, but they’re five or six years into that process and we need to get more behind that process.”

After drawing with Dublin in their Leinster opener, Antrim lost three games on the trot to Wexford, Kilkenny and Galway and simply had to beat Westmeath on their home patch to avoid being relegated.

Conor Johnston, Conal Cunning, Eoin O’Neill and James McNaughton all raised green flags in Mullingar but the win wasn’t without some turbulence.

Ryan Elliott was black-carded after a rare defensive error by Eoghan Campbell just before half-time but Antrim steadied themselves after the restart and produced a storming second half display to win by 14 points.

“We had our standard 10-minute blip before half-time," Gleeson added.

"We were four points up and went in two points down. We were getting frustrated with a couple of the decisions but in the second half we detached ourselves from all of that and went for it in the second half.

“We were still down to 14 men after half-time but we hit a couple of really good scores and we kicked on from there. I was delighted. We didn’t have too much to do [on the sideline] in the second half. I thought we were comfortable and composed and the lads set up really well and we never looked threatened inside.”